‘A protective shield’: PM Modi backs farm bills
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed concerns about prices and the country’s procurement system, under which the government buys farm produce at federally-fixed minimum support prices (MSP) from farmers.Updated: Sep 19, 2020, 04:44 IST
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday took on critics of his government’s farm-liberalisation plan, a day after the Lower House passed two of the three farm bills, accusing detractors of spreading “misinformation and lies”, while reassuring farmers the reforms were in their best interests.
Modi called the reforms a “protective shield” around farmers, which would bring “more options and opportunities”. His comments, made in a video address dedicating a railway bridge in Bihar and also on microblogging site Twitter, came after Lok Sabha passed by a majority voice vote the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, and The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020. On Tuesday, the Lower House passed a third legislation, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020.
Modi addressed concerns about prices and the country’s procurement system, under which the government buys farm produce at federally-fixed minimum support prices (MSP) from farmers. There’s disinformation that the government would withdraw benefits of support prices, he said. The Prime Minister said the country’s procurement system will continue to run as usual.
“People who ruled this country for decades and were in power… such people are trying to mislead farmers. They are telling lies to farmers,” Modi said.
“Disinformation is also being spread that wheat and rice, etc, will not be procured by the government from farmers. This is an absolute lie, completely wrong and an attempt to cheat farmers,” the Prime Minister said.
Modi said the government is committed to give farmers “appropriate prices” through the support-price mechanism. “I want to give farmers a message. Don’t fall for lies.”
The main opposition Congress and a clutch of smaller parties are opposed to the reforms. A key opposition to the bills on Thursday came from the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal, whose minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigned from the Union Cabinet, exposing a crucial rift between the two parties over efforts to unshackle the farm sector.
India’s agricultural trade still requires licenced traders who must operate out of notified markets allotted to them. The bills aim to sidestep this system, called agricultural produce market committees (APMC), free up market restrictions, enable farmers and agribusinesses to engage more confidently under a new contract farming law and help to create modern supply chains. Critics argue the new system will lack adequate oversight in its current form.
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, allows buyers of farm produce to trade outside the mandi system or wholesale markets run by states under APMCs, which have become cartelised over time.
“The reforms will give new freedom to farmers. They will bring more options and opportunities for farmers to sell their produce,” Modi said.
Congratulating farmers of the country over passage of this bills in the Lower House, Modi said the reforms would “protect farmers” from “middlemen”. “Middlemen stand between farmers and their customers; these middlemen take a big chunk of a farmers’ income. These reforms have come as a protective shield for farmers.”
APMC laws require farmers to only sell to licensed middlemen in notified markets, usually in the same area where the farmers reside, rather than in open markets, which economists say scuttles price discovery, hurting farm profits.
The bill enables farmers and buyers of their produce to trade outside these markets without any taxes and will therefore open up APMCs to competitions.
“The agriculture sector will benefit from modern technology and our farmers will also be empowered,” the Prime Minister said.
Modi made a veiled but sharp attack on the Congress for opposing the reforms. “These people who would make big promises to farmers during election time, would do it in writing, and in their manifestoes, forget these promises after elections,” he said.
“Now when the BJP-NDA (the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-National Democratic Alliance) government is implementing those promises, which others have mentioned in their manifestoes, these people are wantonly spreading misinformation.”
The Congress’s 2019 manifesto promised to liberalise agricultural markets.
Modi said “people” who were opposing the reforms had promised them in their party’s election manifestoes. “The same APMC Act over which they are doing politics and opposing changes to provisions of agriculture marketing…these people mentioned these changes in their own manifestoes, but have now come down to spreading lies.”
Major farmer organisations, such as the Bharatiya Kisan Union and the umbrella All-India All-India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, a front for nearly 200 farmers’ groups, have opposed the bills.
Modi said people trying to “mislead” farmers didn’t know how “aware” farmers of the country were. “They are watching; they know who is standing with middlemen.”
Producers of items such as clothing, utensils and shoes, etc, have the freedom to sell where they want, Modi said, adding: “Only farmers were deprived of this freedom. Now they will have the freedom to sell wherever they want in the world.”
Referring to Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, who was present on the occasion, Modi said Kumar knew the problems of farmers. “That is why he had reformed agriculture to remove the APMC law when he first came to power.”
Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the government itself was spreading lies. “Tell me which farmer is happy? Look at the state of farmers in states like Bihar which have junked the APMC system and compare them with farmers of Punjab and see the difference.”