PM Modi reaches out to farmers amid anger
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday came out strongly in defence of the three contentious farm bills enacted by his government, saying the legislation would benefit both farmers by giving them the freedom to choose where they wanted to sell their produce as well as consumers by taking middlemen out of agricultural trading.
Amid protests by some farmers groups against the legislation, Modi said in his monthly radio address, Mann Ki Baat, that farmers had benefitted when fruits and vegetables were brought out of the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) system in some states a few years ago, allowing them to sell the produce outside of the mandis that once functioned as monopolies.
Grain producers will now gain the same freedom, the prime minister said, illustrating the theme with examples from states.
The speech came a day after the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost its Punjab ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal, which walked out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) after protesting against the new laws. SAD had pulled its lone representative in the Modi government, food processing industries minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, from the cabinet on September 17.
Modi cited the example of a farmer, Kanwar Chauhan, in Haryana’s Sonipat district,who told him about how he could not sell his fruits outside the mandi system at one time. In 2014, fruits and vegetables were excluded from the APMC Act and the farmers benefitted from the move.Farmers like Chauhan produce sweet corn and baby corn and supply the produce directly to Delhi market and earn Rs 2.5 lakh to Rs 3 lakh per acre per year.
“What is different that these farmers have? They have the strength to sell their produce where they wish. Now the other farmers of the country have also got this strength. They have got the freedom to sell their produce, not just vegetables and fruits, where they want to,” Modi said.
Modi also referred to a group of farmers in Maharashtra who sold their produce directly to consumers. He also alluded to Theni district of Tamil Nadu where farmers had formed a group that would buy vegetables from the members of their community and sell them elsewhere in Tamil Nadu.
“This benefitted not just the farmers but also the consumers by excluding the middlemen,” said the prime minister.
Modi referred to similar groups in Lucknow, Manipur and Banaskantha. He said a farmer, Ismail Bhai, grew potato in Gujarat which he is selling directly to food companies and earning well.
The PM’s monthly radio address came as President Ram Nath Kovind on Sunday signed into law the three contentious farm bills, which the government says will widen market access to farmers and which opposition parties say are anti-farmer and corporate-friendly.
The three bills — the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Service Bill, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 — have become acts of law with the President’s signature .
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, seeks to give farmers the right to enter into a contract with agribusiness firms, processors, wholesalers, exporters, or large retailers for the sale of future farming produce at a pre-agreed price. And the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, seeks to remove commodities like cereals, pulses, oilseeds, onion, and potato from the list of essential commodities and will do away with the imposition of stock holding limits.
The government, which has said that these laws will make farmers self-reliant, has notified them. More than a dozen opposition parties had urged President Kovind not to sign the contentious bills, alleging that they were passed “unconstitutionally” in “complete disregard” of parliamentary norms. Opposition parties and farmers groups have expressed concern that the new laws could pave way for an end of the minimum support price (MSP) regime.
The PM recalled landmark events that will be observed in the coming days, including the Bhagat Singh Jayanti on Monday, the birth anniversary of Mahatama Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri on October 2. He took a swipe at the Congress party, saying that f the essence of Mahatma Gandhi’s economic philosophy was followed by successive governments, there would not have been any need for the Aatmanirbhar Bharat (Self-Reliant India) campaign his government has launched because India would have become self-reliant much earlier.
He said the farm sector is playing a major role in efforts to build a self-reliant India. Modi paid a tribute to farmers. “In this difficult time affected by Covid-19, the farm sector has shown its strength,” he said, adding that the stronger it is, the stronger will be the foundation of a self-reliant India.
The Congress, meanwhile, likened the laws to cancer and slow poison that will kill farmers and agriculture. At a joint virtual press conference, Congress’s Haryana chief Kumari Selja and Punjab president Sunil Jakhar urged all parties to come together and oppose the farm Bills, which they said will make farmers “slaves of big businessmen”.
Selja and Jakhar said NDA allies should support the opposition, the same way they extended support against the Land Acquisition Bill, which the BJP-led Union government was forced to withdraw.
On the Shiromani Akali Dal’s exit from the NDA, Jakhar said the party did not quit the ruling coalition on its own. It was forced to do so by farmers, who made it difficult for the Akalis to enter Punjab without doing so, he said.
Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh also termed the Akali Dal’s decision to quit the NDA as a case of “political compulsion” for the Badals, who were left with no other option after the BJP’s public criticism over the farm bills.
Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar on Sunday congratulated the leadership of SAD for its decision to quit the NDA. SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal announced the decision to snap ties with the NDA on Saturday night amid farmers protests in Punjab.
“Congratulations to Shri Sukhbir Badal, president of Akali Dal and the party MP Harsimrat Badal who under the leadership of Prakash Singh Badal pulled out of the NDA in protest against the farmers Bills. Thanks for firmly standing with the farmers!” Pawar tweeted.
With SAD’s exit, the BJP has lost its by far two most dependable and ideologically bound allies within a year. Last year, the BJP lost the support of the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, where the Sena formed a government with the NCP and the Congress.