Centre should let Punjab’s farm Bills prevail: Manpreet Singh Badal

AM Jigeesh New Delhi | Updated on October 21, 2020

The Punjab Assembly unanimously passed four Bills — the Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services (Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment) Bill, the Essential Commodities (Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2020, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) (Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment) Bill and the Code of Civil Procedure (Punjab Amendment) Bill — on Tuesday. The Bills nullify the provisions of three farm laws passed in Parliament recently. In an interview with BusinessLine, Finance Minister of Punjab Manpreet Singh Badal explained the circumstances that led to the drafting of the four legislations and their importance. Excerpts:

What are the reasons behind the drafting of four laws for the agriculture sector?

Agriculture is important to Punjab’s social and economic life. We are only 1.5 per cent of India’s land mass. Yet, we account for almost 38 per cent of the country’s food surplus. We must realise that food security is as important as national security.

For a system that stood the test of time in the last 50 years, wherein the State not only became self reliant in food but also attained the food-surplus status, it baffles me why the Centre would want to tinker with the system. What was the idea of bringing these three laws? They don’t suit Punjab at all. They allow people to come here and conduct business without regulations, licences, paying for any rural development fee and without even ensuring a Minimum Support Price.

The reaction to these Acts from farmers were severe. It is understandable as we are dependent on agriculture. That is the reason why we decided to pass four Bills. The fourth Bill was a Bill to amend the civil procedure code. It provides relief to farmers from attachment of their land not exceeding 2.5 acres.

You didn’t face any opposition against the Bills...

Yes. All Bills were passed unanimously in the Assembly. We have 117 MLAs in the Assembly. Two MLAs of the BJP did not attend. If they think that what the Centre has done was correct, then they should have defended it in the Assembly. But they decided to abstain. All 115 MLAs went and met the Governor. He has assured us of his highest consideration as the passage of the Bills represents every citizen in the State. We want status quo to continue. What we have done will probably give the BJP government at the Centre an opportunity to change its mind.

Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had cautioned the Centre against the laws and said Pakistan may take advantage of such situations in the border State...

This is not the first time that the Centre made a bad decision. Demonetisation was a disaster. GST was a disaster. 25 per cent of our revenues were subsumed by the GST. But we supported it for the sake of the country. There’s some strange coincidence that whenever major economic disasters take place, BJP is in power. Be it in 2016 and 2017. Now, there are these farm Bills, which are disastrous for the State. So, Punjab is never enamoured by the BJP’s divisive politics.

What if the President rejects these Bills?

We will tell the Centre that since agriculture is a State subject, it should not make this an ego clash. It should let the Punjab Bills prevail. Anybody who wants to trade wheat and rice in Punjab must have a licence to operate. What if he doesn’t pay farmers? We are saying that the trader must be under government regulations. He must pay the MSP. He should not run away with the money of farmers.

There is an argument that these Bills are against investors who wish to invest in agriculture in the State.

India has about 6,000 APMC markets out of which 2,000 are in Punjab. We have a good system of rural markets with good infrastructure and connecting roads. So people who trade here should be able to contribute to rural infrastructure. We want to ensure open ended procurement from Punjab. We have put in a clause that there will be a penalty or a jail term if the MSP is not provided. That clause is there because farmers should not be cheated.

Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan also want to pass similar laws. But they are facing hurdles from Raj Bhawans. How do you see this?

I don’t think they will face any hurdles in passing similar legislations. They have absolute majority in their houses. They should be able to legislate their own laws. But I don’t think the Punjab model will suit them. They will have to draft laws according to their requirements.

Published on October 21, 2020

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