Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday said the new agriculture sector bills would give farmers more opportunities to sell their produce without restrictions. The prime minister accused those opposing the bills of trying to deceive and mislead farmers.

“Farmers have been given new independence in agriculture,” Modi said at the inauguration of developmental projects in Bihar via video conference. “They will now have more options and opportunities to sell their produce. I congratulate them on the passage of bills. It was necessary to bring these to protect them from middlemen, who take the farmers’ share. These are farmers’ shields.”

He accused the Congress, without naming the party, for lying to the farmers. “During elections, they [the Congress] would make large promises to farmers to lure them and put the assurance in party manifestos,” he claimed. He added that the Congress was now spreading rumours when the Bharatiya Janata Party was fulfilling these promises made to the farmers.

Farmers and Opposition parties have been protesting against three bills in Parliament. The Centre had introduced the Farmers’ Produce Trade And Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Bill, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill in Parliament on Monday. The first two bills were passed by the Lok Sabha on Thursday. The third one was passed on Tuesday.

BJP’s Punjab ally Shiromani Akali Dal is also against the bill. Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, a member of the Shiromani Akali Dal, resigned from her position after the bills were passed in Lok Sabha on Thursday.

During Friday’s speech, Modi said it was being falsely stated that farmers would not get the benefits of the Minimum Support Price or MSP and that the government would not buy crops from the cultivators. “These are not at all true,” the prime ministers said. “There are arrangements to ensure that farmers get the right MSP,” he said. “It was so earlier, is still now and will continue in future.”

Modi said his government was committed to giving the right MSP to farmers and claimed that no government has done for the cultivators as much as the National Democratic Alliance in the last six years.

At the event, the prime minister inaugurated new rail lines and electrification projects in Bihar.

Farmers protest continues

Meanwhile, several farmers’ outfits have continued to protests against the bills since last week. The bills seek to include private players in agriculture and promote hurdle-free sale of produce, but the farmers argue that they will bring about corporate dominance.

On Thursday, Punjab farmers announced that they will stage a three-day rail roko agitation from September 24 to September 26 to protest against the three bills. The call for the demonstration was given by the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh. Other farmers organisations in Punjab have already given a call for a bandh on September 25 in protest against the bills.

Protests were held in other states, including Uttar Pradesh and Telangana, on Monday. All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee President Darshan Pal had said the passage of the bills would mean that the farmers will be left to the “mercy” of big corporates. Farmers in Telangana had said that the legislations were “corporate agriculture bills” which were framed to suit “big corporates who seek to dominate the Indian food and agriculture business”.

In Haryana, the police had resorted to force after the farmers forcibly tried to move towards a rally ground by breaking barricades on September 10, demanding the immediate withdrawal of the then agriculture ordinances.

On Wednesday, the Shiromani Akali Dal issued a whip to its Rajya Sabha members, asking them to vote against the bills. The Akali Dal had earlier supported the Centre’s decision but then claimed that it had not been consulted on the bills.

Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh had called the Essential Commodities [Amendment] Bill a conspiracy by the Centre to destroy Punjab and its farmers. He said he will move the court against it.

Huge blow to states’ rights, says P Chidambaram

Congress leader P Chidambaram on Wednesday slammed the Centre over the passage of the bills and said that the protest by farmers captured “the distance between the people and the government”.

“States were not consulted,” he tweeted. “The passage of the laws is a huge blow dealt by the BJP government to states’ rights and federalism.”

The Congress leader said that the bills “challenge the three pillars of our still-imperfect food security system”, which are minimum support price, public procurement and public distribution system. “The grave flaw in the ordinances is that they do not stipulate that the price which the farmer gets ‘shall not be less than the MSP’,” he added.