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How Punjab farmer is fighting our battle as his own

November 06, 2020 05:32 AM

COURTESY HT NOV 6

How Punjab farmer is fighting our battle as his own

Sukhbir Singh Badal
Sukhbir Singh Badal

Today, the world marches to the beat of an invisible army of economic policy-makers, backed by political and even military muscle, that tells us what to sell, buy, wear or eat; and it tells farmers, including those in Punjab, what he should grow, in what quantity and on what terms.

India could so easily have escaped this economic enslavement of her own people. When the Congress government at the Centre on January 1, 1995, signed on the World Trade Organisation, I remember (former chief minister) Parkash Singh Badal saying in a choked voice, “They have signed the death warrant of our farmers.”

Those words are coming hauntingly true today. The ongoing crisis arising out the three central Acts can be understood and fought only against this background. The government brought three ordinances before the cabinet as table agenda. When the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) representative in the government, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, perused the ordinances, she told them these would not be acceptable to farmers. She was assured since ordinances are merely temporary measures, her concerns about farmers will be addressed and the objectionable clauses removed. We took them at their word, and said so to the farmers.

At my meetings with leaders of farmer organisations, I always offered to support them on any clause they wished to add to or delete from the Bills. They gave us their feedback and we took that feedback to the government and asked it to address their concerns. The Centre didn’t agree. We voted against the Bill, Harsimrat resigned and we quit the National Democratic Alliance to stand by the farmers.

Save farmers from corporate sharks

The Centre needs to be stopped from handing our farmers’ destiny into the hands of national and multinational corporate sharks. The WTO has chosen agriculture as the number one economic area in the country to attack, usurp and finally eliminate. The gameplan is to make India completely dependent on rich nations through corporates. For this, the WTO has attacked farm subsidies, putting them into three baskets of green, orange and blue.

The devil hides in the orange basket that contains subsidies which distort international trade by making products (say wheat) of a particular country (say India) cheaper in comparison with the same project in another country (say, the US). According to the WTO, “The worst subsidies are the minimum support price (MSP) and free power.”

Do you remember an important leader in Punjab making free power such an evil issue sometime back?

Indirect path to end MSP, subsidies

Here is something the Government of India is not telling people. It is committed to the WTO to remove all farm subsidies, including MSP. But a direct, frontal attack on the MSP is a political impossibility. Hence, the indirect path. You keep procurement at MSP a ritual but you neuter it by creating conditions under which MSP dies its own death.

The central Acts target agriculture produce marketing committees (APMCs). When you not only allow purchases of farm produce outside mandis but also incentivise it through no taxation on the buyers, you lure sellers away from these APMCs, which will finally collapse under their own weight.

Then there is contract farming that will eventually turn the farmer into a land-owning tenant at the mercy of the corporate houses. Capt Amarinder Singh was the author of this idea in Punjab, and the Congress in India.

Declare Punjab a principal market area

Finally, the amendments in the Essential Commodities Act legalises something we have been brought up believing is not only a crime but a sin – hoarding with all its attendant evils. Under the given dispensation, the state government is the only entity that can still stop this disaster from happening.

Chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh must stop play-acting and get down to doing what he and his government need to, and can do. He must immediately declare the entire state of Punjab a principal market area. Since central laws do not apply in these principal market areas, this will mean that even corporate or private players will have to compete with the government in buying farmers’ produce. He will have to pay all taxes that a purchaser pays within the mandis now.

Secondly, Capt Amarinder must acknowledge that his own APMC (amendment), 2017, is a replica of the central Acts, with cosmetic changes here and there. In any case, since all that the farmers want is to preserve the status quo ante, there is no reason why he should stubbornly refuse to reject those amendments.

Our society at large must understand that the farmer is not fighting just his own battle. Like the soldier on our border, the farmer is fighting to save us from the advance of hostile economic forces. He is being magnanimous in fighting our battle as his. We must stand strongly by him.

The writer is the Shiromani Akali Dal president and Ferozepur Lok Sabha MP

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