Congress justifies objection to farm bills despite promising similar reforms in 2019 manifesto

Chidambaram accuses BJP of “surrendering to corporates and traders”

Updated - September 19, 2020 04:44 pm IST

Published - September 19, 2020 04:42 pm IST - NEW DELHI

Congress leader P Chidambaram. File

Congress leader P Chidambaram. File

With the Rajya Sabha set to consider the agriculture marketing reform bills on Sunday amidst protests from most of the Opposition, the Congress is trying to refute the ruling BJP’s narrative that it had promised similar reforms in its own election manifesto last year.

Rajya Sabha member and Congress leader P. Chidambaram said the party had promised to promote farmers’ companies and markets with sufficient infrastructure before repealing the existing laws, said.

The BJP is accusing the Congress of duplicity in its opposition to the two Bills that promote barrier-free trade and facilitate the sale of farm produce outside the mandis notified under the Agricultural Produce Market Committee.

In its 2019 poll manifesto , the Congress had gone a step further, saying it would “repeal the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMC) Act and make trade in agricultural produce—including exports and inter-state trade—free from all restrictions.”

Explainer | Why are the Agriculture Bills being opposed

Mr. Chidambaram noted that the Congress manifesto had also promised to “promote Farmers Producer Companies/Organisations to enable farmers to access inputs, technology and markets”, and to “establish farmers’ markets with adequate infrastructure and support in large villages and small towns to enable the farmer to bring his/her produce and freely market the same.”

Only after these promises were accomplished, giving farmers the choice of multiple accessible markets would the Congress have gone on to repeal the APMC Act, he claimed. “The Prime Minister and the BJP spokespersons have deliberately and maliciously distorted the Congress Manifesto,” said his statement. In fact, the Shiromani Akali Dal, which opposed the Bill in the Lok Sabha despite being a BJP ally, had also pointed out the Congress’s election promise and accused the party of a political U-turn.

Mr. Chidambaram accused the BJP of “surrendering to corporates and traders” and “undermining the only regulated market available to the farmer today, without creating thousands of alternative markets that will be accessible to the farmer.”

Also read: Harsimrat Kaur Badal quits Union Cabinet in protest against two agri Bills

The Bills undermined the three pillars of the country’s food security system -- Minimum Support Price (MSP), public procurement and the Public Distribution System (PDS), he said.

“The two Farm Bills do not contain a clause that the price that the farmer will get from the private purchaser shall not be less than the MSP. Why is such a clause absent?” he asked, adding that the Bills falsely assumed that the small farmer and the private purchaser have equal bargaining power.

Mr. Chidambaram urged the Opposition parties to join hands to oppose the Bills and ensure they do not become law in their present form.

The Bills were passed by the Lok Sabha on Thursday.

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