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Punjab’s farmers fear new regime will end assured procurement under MSP – chandigarh

Ever since two farm bills and an amendment in the Essential Commodities Act promulgated by the Narendra Modi-led cabinet in June, there has been simmering discontent among farmers in Punjab. Much to the anger of the farmers, the three bills were debated and passed in the Lok Sabha this week. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), a party with a predominantly rural base in Punjab and one of the oldest allies of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), withdrew its sole representative in the Union cabinet, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who held the charge of food processing industries. Know more about the issue that threatens to snowball into a political agitation.

WHAT ARE FARMERS OPPOSING?

Farmers see the three bills, namely the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020; the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Protection and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020; and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020; as detrimental to their interest. Farmers fear the amendments will destroy the farm produce procurement system in agrarian states of Punjab and Haryana.

WHY ARE FARMERS UPSET?

With the passage of the bills, mandis or grain markets will become redundant, which means market forces will take over. Farmers fear exploitation, says agriculture expert Devinder Sharma. 70% of the mandis in Punjab are dependent on income from the sale of agricultural produce. The impact is visible as basmati exporters are demanding cut in taxes such as mandi fee and rural development fund. Next in the line would be cotton ginning mills that would seek waiver from taxes. The new regime will bring an end to assured and open-ended procurement that means the system of minimum support price (MSP) will see a burial.

WHAT IS THEIR LINE OF ACTION NOW?

Farmer outfits in Punjab are united and have planned long-drawn protests to mount pressure on the government to revoke the bills. They plan protests till October. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, farmers are coming out in large numbers to protest. Political parties have joined the agitation with chief minister Capt Amarinder Singh even ordering the cancellation of cases against farm activists for violating prohibitory orders by protesting against the bills. After Shiromani Akali Dal’s Harsimrat Kaur Badal quitting the Union cabinet, the Akalis are expected to launch protests, too.

WHY ARE THE POLITICAL STAKES HIGH? 

Being an agrarian state, political stakes for all parties over this issue are high in Punjab. Farmers form a decisive group of the electorate. All parties have come out in their support. The Congress, the Shiromani Akali Dal and the Aam Aadmi Party are convinced that farmers can turn the tide in their favour with the state going to the polls in 2022. The state BJP is sticking to its party’s central unit stand that in the long run, the bills will benefit of farmers.

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