Punjab passes bills to block Centre’s farm laws
After a five-and-a-half-hour discussion, the bills were unanimously passed by all members of the ruling Congress, the opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Lok Insaaf Party (LIP) who were present in the House.Updated: Oct 21, 2020, 01:28 IST
The Punjab assembly on Tuesday passed four bills and a resolution to counter the three agriculture marketing laws enacted by the Centre last month, and pledged to safeguard the interests of the state’s farmers, who are concerned that the central legislation would deprive them of government-fixed minimum support prices (MSPs) for their produce and put them at the mercy of big agribusinesses.
After a five-and-a-half-hour discussion, the bills were unanimously passed by all members of the ruling Congress, the opposition Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and the Lok Insaaf Party (LIP) who were present in the House.
After the passage of the bills, chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh, flanked by leaders of the opposition parties, met governor VP Singh Badnore and handed over copies of the four bills.
“The government will take legal recourse if the governor does not sign the amendment bills passed in the state assembly to save the farmers and agriculture,” Singh said.
The Punjab version of the central legislation is aimed at addressing the concerns of farmers and may be adopted by other non-National Democratic Alliance (NDA)-ruled states, including a provision to protect the MSPs that government procurement agencies pay for farmers’ produce.
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020; the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance, Farm Services Bill, 2020; and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020 were pushed through in Parliament last month.
Big farmers’ groups, particularly in Punjab and Haryana, say the Centre’s farm reforms could pave the way for the dismantling of the system of MSPs and that deregulation will leave them vulnerable to powerful agribusinesses and in an even weaker negotiating position than before.
Because the state laws are in conflict with the central laws, which have been signed by President Ram Nath Kovind, they would require presidential assent to be enacted.
Singh said he had sought an appointment with President Ram Nath Kovind between November 2 and 5, and all Punjab legislators will together go to meet him to seek his intervention in the interest of the state.
Singh was accompanied by Leader of Opposition Harpal Singh Cheema, Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar, and Shiromani Akali Dal leader Sharanjit Singh Dhillon, among others, to the meeting with the governor.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – the party in power at the Centre and behind the three central laws – has two members in the state assembly and both were conspicuous by their absence.
The amendment bills — the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) (Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2020 — guarantee minimum support price (MSP) for wheat and paddy growers, and provide for imprisonment of not less than three years and fine for its sale or purchase below the MSPs.
“No sale or purchase of wheat or paddy shall be valid unless the price paid for such agriculture produce under a farming agreement is equal to, or greater than, the MSP announced by the Central government for that crop,” reads section 4 of the Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services (Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2020.
The state also seeks to reserve the powers to levy a fee on private entities for buying the produce of farmers anywhere in the state as well as regulate or prohibit the supply of and impose stockholding limits on essential food items.
The House also adopted a resolution which demanded the annulment of the three “anti-farmer” laws and a proposed central Electricity Bill on power tariffs, which seeks to bar states from offering power subsidies, along with the promulgation of a fresh ordinance making the procurement of foodgrains at MSPs a statutory right of farmers.The fourth bill, an amendment to the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, bars courts from attaching landholdings below 2.5 acre in recovery proceedings.
The two-day special session of the assembly was also extended by a day as the legislative business also included seven other bills which could not be taken up because the House adjourned to allow the CM and other legislators to meet the governor to hand over the bills. These remaining bills will be taken up on Wednesday.