The government is planning to modify its new sugarcane pricing policy in the face of protests from a united Opposition inside Parliament and a siege by agitating farmers outside. Bitter harvest
Even ally DMK joined the protests. After a series of meetings, the government seemed to be giving in, nudged along by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi.
The government’s main worry is that if sugar mill owners are compelled to pay farmers higher prices, they will pass on the burden to the consumer.
But the UPA is willing to revisit the issue, though both Houses may be stalled again on Friday as the Opposition tries to press home its advantage.
Singh assured Gandhi of his willingness to revisit the matter if needed. Gandhi didn’t’ say anything, but Congress statement said, “Today morning Rahul Gandhi met the PM to convey the sentiments of sugar cane farmers in UP. The PM has assured (him) the Govern-ment of India would look into the matter again and assured (him) that if it is in the interest of farmers the Ordinance would be suitably amended.’’
Leader of the House in the Lok Sabha Pranab Mukherjee will host a breakfast meeting for parliamentary party leaders on Monday to discuss the contentious issue along with other matters slated to come up in the session. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar will also be present.
“We are open for discussions on all issues,” said Parliamentary Affairs Minister P.K. Bansal.
To buy peace with the anti-Ordinance forces, the government has decided to drop the controversial clause 3B that said “if any state government fixes any price above the fair and remunerative price fixed by the Centre, such state will pay the amount difference to the sugarcane growers”.
This was decided at meetings Home Minister P Chidambaram, Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and Law Minister M. Veerappa
Moily had with senior officials after the Lok Sabha was disrupted.
Chidambaram expressed his displeasure at the wording of the ordinance issued on October 21 and questioned clause 3B, said sources close to the deliberations.
Sources also said Pawar put the onus of the wording and legality on the Law Ministry as Moily and his team struggled for a convincing explanation.
The officials are said to have pointed out that the ordinance was worded with the intention of saving Rs 14,000 crore (Rs 140 billion) liability for the Centre due to a Supreme Court order.
Another meeting was held at Pawar’s residence in the evening attended by top law officers including G.E. Vahanavati. They decided to drop the controversial clause pertaining to states.
Stormy start to session
The sugarcane issue, which loosely united ideological opposed parties ranging from the BJP to the RLD, the JD(U), the SP, the RJD and Left, saw a stormy start to the winter session.
The Lok Sabha was adjourned for the day on the issue while the Rajya
Sabha was adjourned because of the death of two sitting members.
Notice for an adjournment motion will be given again against the Ordinance on which RLD’s Ajit Singh had organized a rally and mobilized support from parties cutting across the power divide.
A meeting of NDA leaders chaired by L K Advani decided to keep the agitation going.
BJP’s Deputy Leader Sushma Swaraj said: “The ordinance, as it exists, is against the spirit of federalism. If it is worded to write off the liability, we will support the government but the farmers must not lose out on a fair price.”