The government of Punjab is considering declaring every millimetre of the state as a mandi, state FM Manpreet Badal said, to challenge the central government’s passage of the farm bills.
The law, which allows farmers to sell produce outside government-controlled APMC mandis (or market yards) directly to companies, traders or even consumers, has led to farmer protests, especially in the northwestern states of Punjab and Haryana.
Protesters say that the law not only threatens to bring farmers under control of influential corporates, it could also be a sly attempt by the Centre to do away with the minimum state price (MSP) – something that PM Narendra Modi has personally denied.
“We are seriously considering declaring every millimetre of Punjab a mandi if that is what is need to protect the interest of farmers,” the state FM said.
Declaration of Punjab as a mandi will ensure farmers selling directly to third parties will get MSP and the state earns its mandi tax, though it is not clear if such a radical decision will be legally tenable.
Badal added that Punjab has decided to challenge the law in the Supreme Court on two grounds. “Agriculture is a state subject. And the law does not allow one govermment – in this case the Centre – to destroy the economy of another,” he said, adding that there was no need to tinker with a system that was working well.
Economists have noted that protests are most vocal in Punjab and Haryana as nearly 90 percent of the states’ rice – the primary grain covered under MSP besides wheat -- is procured by the government, compared to 10-20 percent in states such as UP and West Bengal.
But FM Badal said the opposition was not protesting for the sake of protesting. “This was said even during demonetisation and GST rollout. The mandis allow efficient price discovery and help develop the local infrastructure, which private players will not be incentivised to do.”
Badal also brought up the CAG report, which said that the Centre had misused funds that was to be given to states as part of GST compensation.
He added that Punjab has not agreed to the two options that the Centre has proposed to make good losses incurred by states through the GST rollout, and will continue to oppose the Centre’s decision.
“We want a third formula,” he said.
First Published: IST