Parliament proceedings | Essential Commodities Amendment Bill passed in Lok Sabha

Punjab farmers are worst affected and fear impact of Bill, says BJP ally Akali Dal

September 15, 2020 11:15 pm | Updated 11:15 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MP Sukhbir Singh Badal speaks in the Lok Sabha during the ongoing Monsoon Session of Parliament, in New Delhi on September 15, 2020. Photo: LSTV/PTI

Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MP Sukhbir Singh Badal speaks in the Lok Sabha during the ongoing Monsoon Session of Parliament, in New Delhi on September 15, 2020. Photo: LSTV/PTI

The Lok Sabha passed the Essential Commodities Amendment Bill by a voice vote on Tuesday evening. The Bill proposes to deregulate the production, storage, movement and sale of several foodstuffs, including cereals, pulses, edible oils and onions, except in the case of extraordinary circumstances.

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With thousands of farmers rising up in protest against the Bill in Punjab, one of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) allies, the Shiromani Akali Dal MP and president Sukhbir Singh Badal, expressed concerns and misgivings about the proposed legislation during the debate in the House. He questioned the manner in which the Bill was brought without consultation with farmers’ organisations. Punjab farmers were the worst affected, he said, adding that they feared multinational players would initially offer lucrative deals and then dominate the market to the detriment of farmers.

The Bill is meant to replace an ordinance promulgated in June, in the wake of the COVID-19 lockdown. It says stock limits can only be imposed if retail prices surge 50% above the average in the case of non-perishables and 100% in the case of perishables.

Congress’ leader in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhary, said that the Bill would effectively legalise hoarding, as licenses will no longer be required to trade in these commodities. The Bill is against the interests of farmers and in favour of corporates, said Bahujan Samaj Party MP Kunwar Danish Ali. The amendment will give unbridled power to the Centre, said Trinamool Congress MP Kalyan Banerjee, adding that the Bill would only empower middlemen at the cost of farmers’ and consumers’ interests.

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The Nationalist Congress Party’s Supriya Sule opposed the Bill, while the Shiv Sena supported it. The Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s Kathir Anand said that deregulation may be needed, but objected to the way the ordinance was brought in, bypassing Parliament and the States. He urged that the Bill be sent to a Select Committee. The Left parties and the Aam Aadmi Party all opposed the Bill.

The Biju Janata Dal’s Bhartruhari Mahtab supported the amendment, saying Indian agriculture markets were over-regulated, and urged the government to remove export restrictions in the sector as well. The Janata Dal-United, Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP), Telangana Rashtra Samithi and Telugu Desam Party representatives all supported the Bill, although the latter’s K. Ram Mohan Naidu also raised a number of concerns regarding the definition of extraordinary circumstances, and States’ roles.

Responding to the debate, the Minister of State for Consumer Affairs Raosaheb Danve said the amendment would encourage competition, help farmers get fair prices and bring in much-needed resources for post harvest management.

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