Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar on Monday said the central government must allay fears of the farmers and make it clear that the new agricultural laws would not dismantle the minimum support price mechanism, under which the Centre buys their produce, PTI reported.
“The Centre has proposed to hold talks with the agitating farmers,” the chief minister said. “Once they sit across the table, it will become clear that fears over MSP are unfounded.”
The chief minister said the government must also clear misconceptions about the legislation that allows farmers to sell outside mandis notified by the Agricultural Produce Market Committee.
Kumar spoke of his own experience of abolishing Agricultural Produce Market Committee mandis in 2006, and how it helped Bihar in boosting production. “As you all know, we had abolished these [APMC mandis] way back in 2006 and introduced a system for procurement through PACS [primary agriculture credit societies],” he said. “Procurement in Bihar, in fact, picked up only after that.”
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill were passed on September 20. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill was approved after a chaotic voice vote in Rajya Sabha on September 22. The three Bills received President Ram Nath Kovind’s assent on September 27.
The farmers fear that the new laws will put them at the mercy of large corporations and remove the minimum support price they receive on important crops. But the government has refuted this claim, and said the laws are needed to reform agriculture by giving farmers the freedom to market their produce and boosting production through private investment.
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Over the past few days, farmers, mainly from Punjab, have arrived at the borders of Delhi with the hope of discussions with the Centre. The protestors said they will continue their demonstrations till three new agriculture laws are withdrawn. Their agitation has been met with violent action from the police, who have attempted to make them return by using water cannons and tear gas.
On Sunday, the protesting farmers rejected Home Minister Amit Shah’s proposal for conditional talks, declining to shift to the government-designated protest site in North Delhi. The farmers said that they will continue to protest on the borders of the national Capital until they are allowed to go to Jantar Mantar, near Parliament in Central Delhi.
They also threatened to block the roads to Delhi from five entry points – Sonipat, Rohtak, Jaipur, Ghaziabad-Hapur, and Mathura – if their demands were not met.
The government has made repeated appeals to the farmers to call off their protests, or at least move to the spot it has identified for them in Burari. On Monday, Shah met Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar for the second time in less than 24 hours, as protestors stayed put near Delhi’s borders for the fifth day.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, too, renewed his appeal in a speech in Varanasi and assured farmers that the new laws would empower them by providing options for a bigger market.
But the farmers again refused go back until the Centre abolishes the legislations. “We have come to Delhi for a decisive battle,” they said.
Most Opposition parties and farmers’ organisations across the country have strongly opposed the bills. In September, the BJP’s Punjab ally Shiromani Akali Dal had pulled out of the NDA over the three farming laws. SAD leader and Cabinet minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal also quit her central post on September 18.