Farmers watch the live telecast of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speech on a screen during 'Kisan Mahasammelan', in Raisen, Friday.(PTI Photo)
Farmers watch the live telecast of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's speech on a screen during 'Kisan Mahasammelan', in Raisen, Friday.(PTI Photo)

‘Bow to farmers’: PM Modi backs laws, slams Opposition

In his virtual address, Modi said three farm laws weren’t introduced overnight and should have been enacted three decades ago.
By HT Correspondent | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON DEC 19, 2020 02:17 AM IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi defended the three new agriculture laws on Friday, saying the legislation would ensure that Indian farmers kept pace with global standards, and attacked the Opposition for misleading cultivators in his strongest appeal yet to break the stalemate with protesting groups.

Addressing a farmers’ meeting in Madhya Pradesh virtually, Modi reiterated his administration’s commitment to state-set crop prices and government-regulated market yards, or mandis, and underlined that he was willing to address all concerns of farmers, who have camped outside the Capital for three weeks now.

“Even after my words and the efforts of the government, if someone has any concerns, then we are ready to bow our heads humbly and discuss the issues with folded hands, for the welfare of the farmers,” the PM said. “I believe there is no reason for distrust or place for lies in the farm reforms we have passed.”

His comments came on a day agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the government was hopeful of resolving the crisis by the new year with the help of backchannel talks with farmer groups. Five previous rounds of talks bore no fruit as protesters were firm in their demand of a repeal of the laws, a possibility the government didn’t entertain. Modi said he will again speak on the issue in greater detail on December 25.

In his virtual address, Modi said three farm laws weren’t introduced overnight and should have been enacted three decades ago.

“The global scenario is changing and it can’t be accepted that Indian farmers lag behind and become helpless in the absence of facilities and advanced technologies…the new laws have not been introduced overnight. Every central government and state governments had discussed it in the past 20-22 years,” he said.

He also alleged that the Opposition was using farmers for politicking and trying to win lost political ground by misleading the agriculturists.

“I don’t think the opposition has any problem with the farm reforms but have a problem that Modi fulfilled promises that they made and couldn’t fulfil. They didn’t get credit for it. I am ready to give all credit to you and manifestoes of the political parties but please don’t mislead the farmers,” said the PM.

The massive farmers’ protest was set off by the three controversial laws pushed through Parliament by the government in September. These allow agribusinesses to trade with minimal regulation, permit traders to stockpile large quantities of food commodities for economies of scale and lay down new contract farming rules.

Farmers say the new rules favour big corporations to whom they will lose business, gut the mandi system and gradually end the regime of minimum support prices (MSP) that acts as a protective net for cultivators. Protesters decided to call off further negotiations on December 8, after a meeting with home minister Amit Shah. They have threatened to intensify their strike and block more roads if the impasse continues.

In his speech, Modi made a strong pitch for MSPs and said it was a lie to suggest that the government was thinking of ending them.

“Opposition leaders are spreading lies about MSP. But I want to assure every farmer that the MSP system will not be discontinued. If we actually want to discontinue this system, why would we implement the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission?” he asked, referring to a 2004-06 commission headed by agricultural scientist MS Swaminathan and set up for the welfare for farmers. “The laws came into force six months ago and like the past, we still declared MSP…we are so serious about MSP that we declare the prices even before cultivation,” the PM added.

He presented a set of statistics to prove that his government declared higher MSPs than the United Progressive Alliance administration that was in power between 2004 and 2014. He also strongly countered the notion that mandis would close due to the new laws.

“The Opposition’s second lie is about the closure of mandis. The businessmen have a freedom to sell their products anywhere in the world but even after 70 years, the farmers didn’t have freedom. The government used to instruct the farmers to sell their produce at mandis only. But with this new law we have given freedom to framers to take decision whether they want to sell the produce in mandi or outside,” said the PM. “Has one mandi closed after the new laws? Then why is this lie being spread?” he asked.

He took on the Opposition over the contract farming law, which many say will leave small farmers vulnerable. “We have just made the law to save the farmers from fraud. The agreement will be of crop and production and it has nothing to do with the land. We have given rights to farmers to break the contract but the businessmen can’t do so. If they do so, they have to pay money to farmers,” said the PM.

Taking a jibe at the Congress, Modi said, “In every 10 years, Congress announced a farm loan waiver scheme. But we all know what they promised and what they gave. In Madhya Pradesh, they promised to waive off loans in 10 days but farmers know what they got. They made the farmers loan defaulters. In Rajasthan too, farmers are still waiting.”

During the programme, state chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan transferred Rs 1,660 crore to the accounts of 3.5 million farmers as relief for crop loss.

Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala alleged the PM was deceiving farmers and added that the Centre should shed its arrogance and repeal the three farm laws at the earliest. “Listen to the farmers, take back the anti-farmer laws,” tweeted Rahul Gandhi.

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