Smriti Kak Ramachandran
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Union minister for law and justice Ravi Shankar Prasad.(File photo)
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Monday slammed the Opposition parties for politicising concerns about the recently passed farm laws and misleading the farmers, saying they are opposing the Narendra Modi government for the sake of doing so.
Union law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the political parties that have lent support to the ongoing protest by farmers shows the “double standards” as far as reforms in the farming sector is concerned.
A bunch of political parties like the Congress, the NCP, the TMC, the SAD, the Samajwadi Party are supporting the farmers from Punjab and Haryana who have been camping in protest at the Delhi border seeking the repeal of the recently passed farm laws.
Accusing them of “duplicity”, Prasad said parties like the Congress and the NCP had in the past tried to undertake similar reforms in the agriculture sector, but are opposing the Modi government for trying to do what they had tried to do.
“The Congress, in their 2019 manifesto, had promised to repeal the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act and make trade of agricultural produce including export free from all restrictions. In 2013, Rahul Gandhi had called a meeting of all Congress chief ministers and said Congress-ruled states should give farmers the right to sell directly. He said they will delist fruits and vegetables from the APMC and give free choice to farmers,” Prasad said.
He went on to say that Sharad Pawar who was a former agriculture minister and is currently opposing the new farm laws had also written to chief ministers for private sector participation in market infrastructure.
“He had written to then Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit and MP chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan that agricultural sector needs improvement and the market requires huge investment in marketing infrastructure including cold chain and private sector participation is essential…There was a standing committee that had Mulayam Singh Yadav as a member, which said it was necessary that farmers have to be set free from the bindings of the Mandis,” Prasad said.
Blaming the Opposition for using the farmers’ protest as a platform to “retain their political relevance”, Prasad said between 2007-12 the Manmohan Singh government had recommended contract farming. He said in states such as Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Chhattisgarh, Goa, Gujarat, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Maharashtra, MP, Mizoram, Nagaland, Orissa and Rajasthan contract farming was enabled to allow more opportunities for farmers and to increase their income.
“Yogendra Yadav had wanted the Modi government to make improvements in the APMC act. Arvind Kejriwal on November 23 notified the new laws that have been drafted …The political parties are misleading the farmers and their entire approach is double faced,” he said.
He also assured farmers that their land will not be sold or leased under the new contract farming laws. “I want to assure them that the land will not be sold, leased or mortgaged under the new contract farming laws,” he said.
Referring to the digital mandis, the national agriculture market portal that has given farmers access to markets outside their states the minister said one thousand mandis of 21 states are functioning on the portal and business worth Rs1.15 crore has been carried out.
He said if the government’s intent was to close down mandis it would not have carried out buying of crops. Till November end, 31.8 million tonne of paddy has been bought of which 64% is from Punjab, he said.
Meanwhile, the Congress blamed the Centre for the ongoing farmers’ agitation, saying the NDA government was responsible for the protests as it had not held discussions with the farmers before enacting the new laws.
Addressing a news conference, Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar said the Centre had also attacked the opposition for its critique of the farm bills in the monsoon session of Parliament.
He claimed the Centre would be responsible for any inconvenience faced by the people during Bharat bandh on Tuesday. “The only solution is to call a session of Parliament and repeal the laws,” Jakhar told reporters. “The Centre is being rigid. It is responsible for the farmers agitating in bitter cold,” he added.
The Congress leader also attacked the government over the construction of new Parliament building. “The government is spending money on constructing a new Parliament building. They should realise that Parliament runs on emotions not buildings,” he added.
Congress leaders from Punjab and Haryana staged a protest at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, demanding immediate convening of winter session of Parliament to discuss the farmers’ issues. Party MPs from Punjab and Haryana Preneet Kaur, Manish Tewari, Ravneet Singh Bittu, Gurjeet Singh Aujla, Amar Singh, Mohammad Sadique and Deepender Hooda held a sit-in at Jantar Mantar to press upon the government to withdraw the contentious laws and discuss the issue in Parliament. (With input from Aurangzeb Naqshbandi)