While talking to CNBC-TV18, he explained why the Akali Dal had quit the ministry, “The fact of the matter is that these three acts are creating suspicion in the minds of the so-called beneficiaries. The government is saying that these acts will benefit the farmers, but the beneficiary is saying that this is going to harm my interests.” He stressed at the fact that being a farmers’ party, Akali Dal will continue to stand with the farmers, making sure their voice is heard.He further pointed out that the Akali Dal does not doubt the government’s intentions, but he insisted on raising the issue in the Rajya Sabha again. “We have been requesting the formation of a committee to address these fears. All a farmer wants is that MSP which is right now covered into the National Security Act 2013 should be covered under the latest Agri acts. A mere assurance on the floor of the house is not enough,” he added.
Farmers in Punjab and Haryana are protesting over the three farm bills the government plans to make law.
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Of these, the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill seeks to give farmers the freedom to sell their produce to buyers of their choice, other than the state-controlled APMC markets.
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill seeks to promote contract farming, under which farmers can engage with agri-business firms, processors, wholesalers, exporters, or large retailers for farm services and sell future produce at a pre-decided price acceptable to both parties.
The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill aims to exempt cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion, and potatoes from the list of essential commodities. Producers, traders, and stockists would then have the freedom to produce, hold, and distribute these commodities without regulatory restrictions, except in extraordinary situations like war, famine, and other natural calamities.
The biggest worry of the farmers is that the government may slowly discontinue the system of Minimum Support Price (MSP), putting them at the mercy of private buyers, notably corporates, who could force the farmers to sell their produce at low prices.
Arthiyas or commission agents are also protesting as they will be made redundant if farmers have the freedom to sell their produce directly to traders, or companies.
The new laws could also hit the Mandi tax collections of states because if farmers bypass the state-controlled APMC markets and sell directly to traders and corporates, they will not have to pay the tax.
Speaking in a panel discussion on CNBCTV18, Naresh Gujral, Rajya Sabha MP from the Shiromani Akali Dal, said that the finer points of the bills have not been properly communicated to the farmers.
"The fact of the matter is that these three bills are creating suspicion in the minds of the so-called beneficiaries," Gujral said.
"The government is saying that these acts will benefit the farmers, but the beneficiary is saying that this is going to harm my interests," he said, adding that the government needed to reach out to them.
Gujral said his party was not doubting the government's intention to ensure a better deal for the farmer.
"What the farmer wants is that MSP (Minimum Support Price), which is covered under the National Food Security Act 2013, should be covered under the (Farm) Act, a mere assurance on the floor of the house is not enough," Gujral said.
According to Gujral, the main worry of the farmers is that the procurement by the government will reduce once these bills are passed.
“In Punjab, we have 1900 regulated mandis, almost one mandi for five villagers. They are all connected with a pakka road, within twenty minutes, a farmer can take his produce to the mandi and sell at the MSP. He feels that this is under threat, and he wants it to be covered under the (proposed) Act,” Gujral said.
"Heavens will not fall if we delay the Act by a month. We can send it to a select committee, the select committee will consist of members of all political parties. All stakeholders can present their views to the select committee, which can then hear them and tweak the Acts, he said.
MJ Khan of the All India Farmers Alliance said that during the first term of the Modi government, Home Minister Rajnath Singh would meet key farmer leaders twice or thrice a year irrespective of whether there were major issues or not. Khan said that has not been happening for the last one-and-a-half years. He said the top 5-6 ministers in the Union Cabinet, along with agriculture experts should meet key farmer leaders and convince them that these proposed laws were in the long term interests of farmers.
VM Singh, Conveyor, All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee said everything was wrong with the legislation, and that hoarders would have a free run once commodities like rice, wheat, onions, and potatoes were out of the Essential Commodities list, and prices would soar.
"This legislation came on June 5, one-nation-one market. The MSP of maize is Rs 1760 per quintal, but it is being sold for Rs 700,800,900 across states from Bihar, to UP, to Haryana to Madhya Pradesh, and the whole of Rajasthan," Singh said.
"Show me one farmer who has sold his produce for more than that price, and taken it from one place to another," he said.
Singh highlighted the fact that the average landholding in the country was 2.5 acres and it was even lower in a state like Bihar, where the holdings were in gatthas and bighas.
"This man cannot even take his produce to the mandi which is 10 kilometers away, he does not have the infrastructure. How can he take it to Kolkata or Madras (Chennai)," said Singh.
"The law came in June. Maize came in July, in August. People had the freedom to sell anywhere they could, why did they not do that," he said.
Singh said the new laws would benefit corporates who have the buying power and hoarding capacity and can pressure farmers into selling to them at lower prices.
"If they (corporates) then sell the same rice, wheat, potatoes and onions at double the price, the government can say oh, the experiment did not work," Singh said, mentioning some of the farm policies under the current and previous government which failed to give the desired results.
Atul Chaturvedi, Director of Adani Wilmar, said he saw no reason why the bills would make the farmers' position worse than what it was at present. He said that the Essential Commodities Act was a relic of the socialist era in the 60s when India was leading a ship-to-mouth existence.
"That is no longer the case now. This draconian law gives food inspectors the power to haul anybody and put them in jail. It is a good thing that the Act has been given a decent burial," he said.
On APMC markets, Chaturvedi said that they had become a "hotbed of politics" over the years. He said that from a farmers perspective, selling directly to the buyer helped them save on the costs they would otherwise have incurred on taking their produce first to the market yard. He said it would benefit both corporate buyers and farmers if instead of the first being hauled to the mandi and from there to the market, the produce directly went to the factory.
First Published: Sept 19, 2020 8:34 PM IST