The farm bills brought by the government undermine the food security system, the Congress claimed on Saturday and urged opposition parties to collectively oppose the bills so that they do not become law in their present form. Congress leader and former Union finance minister P Chidambaram said that the Congress's 2019 poll manifesto was based on foundational principles of minimum support price (MSP), public procurement and public distribution system (PDS) to ensure food security.
But Prime Minister Narendra Modi and spokespersons of the BJP have "deliberately and maliciously distorted" the Congress manifesto, he alleged. On Friday, the BJP had alleged that the Congress in its 2019 manifesto had promised to abolish the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Act.
Chidambaram said it is clear in the manifesto that the Congress had promised to help farmers. However, this government has "surrendered" to corporates and traders, he claimed in a statement. "Every political party has to take a stand is it with the farmers or is it with the BJP threatening the livelihood of farmers," Chidambaram said.
The Lok Sabha has passed three bills related to the farm sector and these are the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, which seek to promote barrier-free inter-state and intra-state trade in agricultural produce. These will now be tabled in the Rajya Sabha.
Seeking to counter the ruling BJP's charge that it was the Congress which had proposed to do away with the APMC Act, he said successive Congress governments built, brick by brick, a food security system that culminated in the National Food Security Act, 2013. The three pillars of the Congress' food security system are MSP, Public Procurement and PDS, Chidambaram said. The Congress had promised to promote farmers producer companies and organisations to enable them to access inputs, technology and markets,he said.
The party had also assured establishing farmers' markets with adequate infrastructure and support in large villages and small towns to enable a farmer to bring produce and freely market the same, the former finance minister said.
"Farmers need multiple accessible markets and choice. The Congress' proposals would have given them that. Once that is accomplished, the Congress manifesto promise on repealing the APMC Act and making trade in agricultural produce free would be a natural sequel in course of time," he said. "While our promise is clear, the Modi government has surrendered to the corporates and traders," the Congress leader alleged.
Chidambaram said two farm bills do not contain a clause that the price that the farmer will get from the private purchaser shall not be less than the MSP. "Why is such a clause absent," he asked. The bills undermine the only regulated market available to the farmer today, without creating thousands of alternative markets that will be accessible to the farmer. The bills assume perversely that the farmer and the private purchaser have equal bargaining power. They do not," Chidambaram said. "The small farmer will be at the mercy of the private purchaser," he said.
Chidamabaram also said that in case a dispute arises between the farmer and the private purchaser, the machinery under the bills is so bureaucratic and convoluted that no farmer will have the strength or the resources to fight the purchaser. The small and medium farmer will be ruined, he said. "The bills undermine the three pillars of our food security system, the Congress leader said.
"Little knowledge is dangerous and little reading is even more dangerous", Chidambaram said and alleged that the BJP is caught in a web of its own creation He alleged that an economy afflicted by shortage of goods and services was exploited by it. Suspended Congress leader Sanjay Jha on Friday had said the opposition party and the BJP were on the same page on the farm sector bills as the Congress had before the 2019 parliamentary elections proposed abolition of the APMC Act to make agricultural produce free from restrictions.