Cover story

Ordinances ‘anti-farmer’

Print edition : July 17, 2020

Ploughing in progress at a village near Amritsar on June 9. Photo: PTI

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. Photo: Akhilesh Kumar

Ajmer Singh Lakhowal, Bharatiya Kisan Union leader. Photo: Ramesh Sharma

Three ordinances passed recently by the Central government in connection with the marketing of agricultural produce have been opposed by all political parties except the BJP.

WHEN the lockdown restrictions began to be eased in Punjab in early June, the Central government promulgated three ordinances which could change the way the State stores and markets its agricultural produce in the years to come. The ordinances are aimed at ushering in agricultural reforms for raising farmers’ income and giving them the freedom to sell their produce beyond the mandis.

The President promulgated the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance Act 2020 . According to an official release, the Central government had been making comprehensive interventions to impart efficiency to agricultural marketing, with the aim of raising the incomes of the farmers. It stated: “Recognising the bottlenecks preventing the holistic development of marketing of the agriculture produce, the government drafted the Model Agriculture Produce and Livestock Marketing (APLM) Act 2017, and also the Model Agriculture Produce & Livestock Contract Farming Act of 2018 for adoption by the States.”

However, all the major political parties of Punjab, except the Bharatiya Janata Party, have either opposed the ordinances or sought clarifications and safeguards. The Punjab government even felt the ordinances went against the spirit of cooperative federalism and urged the Centre to rethink the issue. It rejected outright the slogan of “One India, One Agriculture Market”, emphasising that each State, as indeed each crop, had its own unique characteristics and nuances which could not be homogenised.

Farmers protest

Even as the government was considering leading an all-party delegation to the Prime Minister, farmers took to the streets, alleging that the ordinances were a ruse to destroy the long-suffering farmer.

Under the aegis of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti, hundreds of farmers organised protests in various districts of Punjab and submitted memorandums to the District Magistrates in Hoshiarpur, Fazilka, Tarn Taran, Moga, Jallandhar and Amritsar, seeking revocation of the ordinances. Expressing apprehension about the timing of the ordinances, veteran Bhartiya Kisan Union leader Ajmer Singh Lakhowal wondered why the government was in a hurry to pass the ordinances, bypassing Parliament.

“If Modi claims it is about One Nation, One Agriculture then they could have waited for the Parliament session, held discussions with all political parties before arriving at a decision. As it turned out, they did not discuss it with the State government. Forget taking the Chief Minister into confidence, they did not consult kisan leaders either, nor did they speak to various panchas (panchayat leaders). But who will suffer? Not the Central government but the average farmer who sweats it out in the fields every day to feed the nation.”

Lakhowal added, “The ordinances will kill the farmers. Once the private companies are able to dig in their feet, they will control the market, they will control the prices. They will even buy the mandi. What is preventing them?”

However, the ordinance on price assurance specifies that mandis will not be touched.

“They are lying. The government will waive off all taxes for them, i.e. the corporate houses. I know it as I have been the president of the Punjab Mandi Board until a few years ago. The effects will not be seen this year. It will take two-three years. Our agriculture will slip into the hands of corporate houses. Instead of working for the poor farmer, the Centre seems to be working for Adani-Ambani. The poor farmer will become a labourer on his own fields once these corporate houses come into the scene. A man who until now owned a small patch of land but managed to sustain himself with that will be reduced to the status of a landless labourer,” said Lakhowal.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh wrote to the Prime Minister urging him to review the ordinances in the spirit of “cooperative federalism”. Pointing out that Punjab had been at the forefront of ensuring food security for the nation even at the time of the pandemic, Amarinder Singh pointed out that agriculture was a State Subject under the Constitution and it features at Entry 14 in the State List. “On the other hand, trade and commerce feature at Entry 33 of the Concurrent List which enables both the Union and State governments to legislate on the subject provided the State legislation is not repugnant to the Union’s legislation.”

Praising the State’s track record, including ushering in the Green Revolution, Amarinder Singh reiterated, “The Agriculture Produce Marketing System in Punjab has stood the test of time and served the State as well as the country over the past 60 years. It had in fact been an important contributor to the success of the Green Revolution and helped in ensuring food security on the one hand and securing livelihood of millions of farmers and farm workers on the other.”

Arguing that the State had a well-organised system of mandis and godowns, he alleged that the changes sought to be ushered in through the ordinances had led to fears that the government was moving towards withdrawal of the assured procurement of foodgrains produced by the local farmers.

The well-established system of minimum support price (MSP) will be adversely affected, he claimed.

Amarinder Singh won support across the political spectrum at an all-party meeting convened on June 24, with even the leading opposition party, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), coming on board. “For SAD, no ministry, alliance or government is beyond the welfare of the annadata, the farmers,” said SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal.

Punjab Congress Committee president Sunil Jakhar was more forthright in seeking immediate revocation of the “three anti-farmer ordinances” and said it would place the farmers’ fate at the mercy of the corporates.

“The BJP’s real intent is to eventually do away with the MSP regime, which they consider a burden on the Indian economy, and the actual purpose behind these ordinances is to prepare smooth ground towards that end so that government steps out and the corporates step in,” he told the all-party meeting.

The Aam Aadmi Party’s Punjab unit president, Bhagwant Mann, claimed that not only farmers but arhtiyas [commission agents] and small traders would be impacted adversely by the ordinances. The BJP, though, claimed that the new rules were pro-farmer, and the ordinances were passed only to help ameliorate the lot of the farmers during the lockdown.

Shortly afterwards, Amarinder Singh stated, “The major political parties barring the BJP have resolved to appeal to the Prime Minister to immediately withdraw the recently passed ordinances. An all-party delegation is likely to convey their strong reservations on the subject to the Centre.”

The BKU’s Ajmer Singh Lakhowal said: “They are doing the right thing. What else can the State government do at such a time? The State government was not taken into confidence but it knows this corporatisation of agriculture will ruin the farmers, and ultimately snatch the food away from the poor.”

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