Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Tuesday said the state Congress will challenge the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020 in the court of law. He described the legislation a direct and deliberate assault by the Centre on the farmers' interests.
Lok Sabha on Tuesday passed the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 which seeks to deregulate food items, including cereals, pulses and onion, a move aimed at transforming the farm sector and raising farmers' income. "Riding roughshod over the farmers' concerns, the central government, of which the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is a constituent, has imposed a central law on a state subject, thus eroding the federal structure of the country," said the CM. We will challenge it in court, he said in a statement here.
Asserting that he will not allow the farmers' interests to be compromised in this "shameless manner", Singh said the enactment of the legislation is a step towards the abolition of the MSP (minimum support price) regime. "It is a conspiracy on the part of the BJP-led NDA government to destroy Punjab and its farmers," he alleged and declared that the Congress will fight this attack on the state's interests tooth and nail.
"The legislation talks of encouraging competition among farmers. Do they really expect poor farmers, who are only competing with themselves for survival every day, to rival big corporates for protecting their interests? asked the CM. Noting that the enactment, along with the other two farm ordinances that the Centre has already tabled in the Lok Sabha, was in line with the recommendations of the Shanta Kumar committee," Singh said.
"The same committee had also suggested dismantling of the MSP regime. It is evident that the NDA government is now moving towards the elimination of the MSP system," he alleged. The CM also took on Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Badal, accusing him of failing to protect the interests of Punjab's farmers.
"Sukhbir and his SAD were clearly a party to the treachery of the Union government, which has paved the way for taking away the rights of the farmers, he alleged. Will you quit the ruling coalition at the Centre?" the CM asked Sukhbir.
The Shiromani Akali Dal also opposed the Bill in Lok Sabha saying it is against the interest of farmers of the country, especially those in Punjab.
Participating in the debate, SAD President Sukhbir Singh Badal said when the ordinance was being discussed in the Cabinet, his party colleague and Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal had raised objections and conveyed the concerns of farmers. She had requested the ordinance be put off, but it was issued regardless, Sukhbir said. Harsimrat Kaur Badal is the Union Food Processing Minister in the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Cabinet.
"The government should not have brought the ordinance without consulting farmers. farm organisations, and parties like the SAD that have a substantial presence among the farming community," Sukhbir said, adding these stakeholders should have been taken on board. Ever since the ordinance was issued "we have been asking the government not to press with it and not to bring this bill. But our voice was not heeded to," he said. Underlining that he himself hails from a farming family, Sukhbir, in an emotive speech, said the SAD essentially is a party of farmers and has always championed their cause.
"The party's legacy cannot and will not be compromised or diluted, no matter what price we have to pay," he said, speaking in Punjabi. The government on Monday had introduced 'The Farmers' Produce Trade And Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Bill' and 'The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill', and 'The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill' to replace the ordinances promulgated earlier.
Expressing his concerns about all three bills, Badal said Punjab will be the worst affected state by these legislations. "Punjab and Haryana have built best marketing infrastructure from their own resources. We will be the worst affected if the assured marketing of farmers' produce at MSP is endangered," he said. He requested the Centre withhold these legislations and work to address the concerns of farmers, adding that the farming community in many states, including Punjab and Haryana, have been protesting against these bills. Later, speaking to the media, he said when the voting on the bill was taking place, Congress and Aam Aadmi Party MPs from Punjab were not present in house as he opposed the proposed legislation.