Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal on Tuesday said the government may have refused to pay heed to opposition leaders’ reservations about the contentious farming bills, but it should at least talk to farmers who have been vehemently protesting against the ordinances, the Hindustan Times reported.
In an interview with the newspaper, Badal said there was no point in “putting ministers on TV” to give clarifications. “The same ministers should be deputed to meet the farmers and listen to them.”
The Rajya Sabha on Sunday passed the Farmers’ and Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 by a voice vote, despite opposition MPs asking for a division. The chaotic scenes at the Upper House over the manner in which the bills were passed has led to protests from opposition parties across the country.
Beyond the contentious circumstances under which this voice vote took place, the agriculture legislations have brought farmers out on the streets, who fear the new policies would bring about corporate dominance. They allege that in the name of reforms, the government would discontinue the minimum support price regime. The government, however, claims that the bills would boost agriculture activity, make farming more profitable and eliminate the middleman system.
But Badal said this was not possible. “Whether you make it private or not, middlemen will stay,” he said. “You think [Mukesh] Ambani or [Gautam] Adani will go directly to the farms and buy it [farm produce]?” he asked. “Obviously they will have their layer of middlemen.”
The SAD leader added that the current mandi system exists in a manner that allows anyone to buy a farmer’s produce. “Farmers feel that big corporate houses will take them over,” he said. “But they [the government] say farmers can take legal recourse...You can’t make a farmer fight a big corporate house... They are poor people who want a sense of security which they get from the government mandi system.”
Badal said he felt the Centre’s arguments in defence of the three bills were made without consulting stakeholders. “We are part of the National Democratic Alliance, they could have at least consulted us,” he added.
The Shiromani Akali Dal, one of the oldest allies of the Bharatiya Janata Party, has been opposed to the bills from the beginning. Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who is also from the party, had resigned from her position last week over the passage of the bills in the Lok Sabha. On Monday, a delegation of Shiromani Akali Dal had met President Ram Nath Kovind and asked him not to give his assent to the farm bills passed by Parliament.
“We have to try our best to stop it,” Singh added, referring to the meeting. “The bill doesn’t become an Act till the president signs it. We are representing the farmers and on their behalf we are requesting the president, please reconsider signing the bill.”
The SAD leader accused the Centre of bulldozing the legislations in Rajya Sabha. “There was no voting, it was just bulldozing of the bills taking place over there [in Rajya Sabha],” he said. “Outside [Parliament], rights of farmers [are] being bulldozed, inside rights of MPs [are] being bulldozed.”
‘Farm bills are black laws, will ruin farmers’: Sidhu
Meanwhile, Punjab Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu termed the farm bills “black laws” that would “ruin” the agricultural community, PTI reported. Claiming that he would hit the streets to oppose the bills, Sidhu said every Punjabi should resist it.
“By bringing these black laws, the government is sidelining the farmers,” Sidhu told a news channel. He added that he was in favour of moving the Supreme Court against the bills. Sidhu also suggested that a common minimum programme be framed to safeguard the interests of the farmers.
The former minister claimed that the Narendra Modi-led government went out of the way to help capitalists, by waiving Rs 4 lakh crore to Rs 5 lakh crore taxes and giving subsidies. “But when the time comes for giving MSP [Minimum Selling Price] to farmers, there is so much hue and cry,” he said. “The GST [Goods and Services Tax] killed traders. These black laws are ruining farmers. Around 28,000 arthiyas and four to five lakh mandi labourers will also be hit.”
The Congress leader alleged that the Centre was replacing the “successful mandi model” with the “free market model”, which he claimed has failed in the United States and Europe. He alleged that the implementation of the farm bills will also result in food inflation.