Economy

Send farm Bills to the Standing Committee, get all stakeholders on board: Harsimrat Kaur Badal

Poornima Joshi New Delhi | Updated on September 18, 2020 Published on September 18, 2020

Chandigarh 17/12/2018: Shiromani Akali Dal leader and Union Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal addressing media persons during a press conference in Chandigarh on Monday, December 17 2018. Photo: Special Arrangement   -  THE HINDU

A day after she resigned as Minister of Food Processing from the Union Cabinet to protest against the passage of farm-related bills in Parliament, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Harsimrat Kaur told BusinessLine in an exclusive interview that the intent and aim of the new legislations has been lost in the inexplicable haste with which they are being pushed. The former Minister said she had no choice but to resign because her consistent efforts to convince the Union Cabinet that farmers and all stakeholders needed to be heard before the Bills were brought were ignored. She also signalled that SAD-BJP alliance was intact despite her resignation. Excerpts:

 

The ordinances were brought in June, why resign now?

I have not taken this step without consideration. I tried convincing the Government for several months that there are scores of farmers, their organisations and political parties across the States who believe that these ordinances harm their interests. In Punjab, which is entirely an agrarian State, the widespread belief is that like the telecom sector, it will pave way for monopoly capitalism to prevail in agriculture. These ordinances have not been able to win the confidence of the farmers. We cannot have them as laws till we remove the farmers’ apprehensions. We have been a farmers’ party, they form our backbone. I come from a farmer family and my political existence is because of the farmers. Till the farmers’ apprehensions are allayed, we not only will be on the streets. Every drop of our blood owes allegiance to the farmers.

It is really unfortunate that some people are calling it (my resignation) a political stunt. I have done my duty towards the farmers who have sent me to Parliament for the third term. I cannot be standing with a legislation which the farmers believe hurts their interests. My conscience did not allow it, which is why I resigned and voted against this Bill.

 

Would you say that the intent behind the Bill may be good but bringing them through ordinances was not a very wise decision?

More consultations would have paved a better way out. Before the ordinance came out, I raised it in the inter-ministerial consultations that come out in the month of May. Even though I had to speak from the Food Processing Minister’s point of view, and these are definitely beneficial to the industry, I still highlighted that the stakeholders are not on board and even chief ministers have not been consulted. I raised it in the Cabinet when they were bringing in the ordinance. I told them that there was unrest and the farmers are building a huge movement. They are extremely agitated. Despite that, the ordinance was passed.

In the meantime, we were constantly talking to the farmers and various unions and organisations. We kept asking them to point out specific clauses and sections in the ordinances which they have objections to. But already, an atmosphere of distrust had been created through the ordinances. The situation right now is while our house has been surrounded by farmers for the last five days, the Bills have been pushed in Parliament because they (the BJP) have the majority. There are thousands of farmers out on the streets despite the Covid-19 scare and if that was not there, their number would have been in lakhs. So a legislation that is aimed at the farmers’ good is being opposed with such ferocity on the ground. What is the point of this? Why are the stakeholders not being heard? Where is the hurry? It is the duty of the Government to convince them that the Bills are for their good and not to ruin their future.

 

Do you think the situation can still be salvaged if the bills are sent to the Standing Committee?

This is what we have been telling them. Please send it to the standing committee, let us get all the stakeholders on board and address their concerns and then bring it to Parliament. I don’t understand what the great rush is about. That is why I don’t have a choice. I have to stand with the farmers in this. I cannot be part of a Government and a Cabinet which is being seen by farmers as harming their interests.

All I ask is – please hear them out, please address their concerns so that farmers welcome this Bill instead of being out on the streets opposing it. The whole business of adhtias and mandis has not been understood in its entirety and certainly, there is ignorance. In Punjab, the mandis are run by the Government. There is no monopoly of any political party. There is a mandi tax which is why we have been able to build such a robust rural infrastructure. We have the best procurement system in the world. This agitation is spreading and farmers from Punjab are being supported by farmers in Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. I have been talking to MPs across party lines and they have their reservations. You have to realise that 80 per cent of our farmers are small and marginal farmers. The Government has to protect their interests.

 

Will the Akali Dal withdraw support from the Government?

Akali Dal’s support to the Government is a matter that will be decided at the appropriate party forum. This is a very old alliance. Vajpayee-ji (former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee) and Badal-ji (former Punjab Chief Minister Prakash Singh Badal) made this alliance because they believed that in a border state, there should be peace and brotherhood. A thirty-year-old alliance is not broken in a hurry and on one issue. But we definitely have our concerns and ideals and they come first.

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Published on September 18, 2020
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