Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Wednesday staged a protest at the Jantar Mantar in Delhi, referring to the Centre’s treatment of the state as “step-motherly”, reported ANI.
Singh, who was joined by Congress MLAs from Punjab, state ministers, Punjabi Ekta Party MLA Sukhpal Khaira, Lok Insaf Party legislator Simranjit Singh Bains and Shiromani Akali Dal (Democratic) MLA Parminder Singh Dhindsa, has accused the Centre of “choking” the state by suspending goods trains, according to NDTV. All essential goods in Punjab are in short supply, including fertilisers for winter crops and coal for power plants.
Singh alleged that the Centre has failed to pay Punjab its quarterly Goods and Services Tax dues and was cutting off access to the Disaster Relief Fund. “We’re buying power from National Grid from funds we’re left with,” he said. “The constitutional guarantee of receiving quarterly GSTs has not been fulfilled and is pending since March. Rs 10,000 crores is due. This step-motherly treatment is wrong.”
State-owned Punjab State Power Corporation Limited from Tuesday began cutting off power across different areas. Further, due to the halting of goods trains, the state government has to bring urea fertiliser via trucks, increasing the costs.
Punjab needs 14.5 lakh tonnes of urea for winter crops, but the state has only about 75,000 tonnes, according to government officials. The Ministry of Railways had suspended goods train services to Punjab, citing concerns over the security of its “men and material” in view of the farmers’ “rail roko” protest. The farmers were protesting the Centre’s farm laws.
The suspension, however, had come after farmers scaled down their protests after Punjab Assembly passed three bills to counter the Centre’s farm laws on October 20. Governor Virendra Pal Singh has not cleared the bills yet and also not cited the reason for the delay.
At the protest, the chief minister said they had asked President Ram Nath Kovind to explain the situation in Punjab but he has not replied. “So we thought we’d come and share our views on the matter,” Singh said. “I haven’t asked for time from the PM [Prime Minister Narendra Modi] but I will in due course.”
On the “step-motherly” behavior, Singh said he had once asked Manmohan Singh why he was giving so much to the Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab, to which the former prime minister replied that he must be treating everyone equally, according to The Indian Express. The chief minister added that he hoped the ruling government adopts a similar approach towards the state government.
Meanwhile, Congress leader Navjot Singh Sidhu and a few other party MLAs were stopped by the police at the Delhi border. The Delhi Police later escorted Sidhu and the other legislators to Punjab Bhawan, where the party MLAs had assembled to participate in the dharna.
The farm laws
The Parliament had passed three ordinances – Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Ordinance 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Assurance and Farm Service Ordinance 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 – in September. They were signed into laws by President Ram Nath Kovind on September 27.
Protests had erupted against the laws in many parts of the country. When two of the legislations were tabled during a chaotic session in Parliament on September 20, some Opposition MPs claimed that they would prove to be the “death warrant” for the agricultural sector.
Taken together, the three legislations loosen regulations on the sale, pricing and storage of agricultural produce. They allow farmers to sell outside mandis notified by the Agricultural Produce Market Committee. They enable contract farming through deals with private sector companies. They take food items like cereals and pulses off the list of essential commodities, lifting stock limits on such produce.
The government claims the new laws would give farmers the freedom to sell in the open market. But farmers say the laws will weaken the minimum support price mechanism under which the government buys agricultural produce, leave farmers to the mercy of market forces and threaten food security.
Most Opposition parties and farmers’ organisations across the country have strongly opposed the bills. The Shiromani Akali Dal, one of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s oldest allies, pulled out of the National Democratic Alliance in protest against these bills.