Terming the two agriculture marketing reform Bills passed by the Lok Sabha on Thursday as “anti-farmer” legislation, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MP and Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigned from the Union Cabinet in protest.
Her party is one of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) oldest allies, and Ms. Badal was its sole representative in the Modi government.
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Tweeting from her verified account, Ms. Badal said she had resigned from the Cabinet “in protest against anti-farmer ordinances and legislation. Proud to stand with farmers as their daughter and sister”.
In a four-page letter of resignation to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, she wrote, “My decision symbolises my party’s vision, its glorious legacy and its commitment to go to any extent to safeguard the interests of the farmers.”
Farmers groups, especially in Punjab and Haryana, have risen in protest against the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, which replace the Ordinances promulgated in June. The proposed legislation seeks to promote barrier-free trade of farm produce by facilitating contract farming as well as agricultural marketing outside notified Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandi s.
Protesting farmers are worried about the dilution of the existing Minimum Support Price (MSP) regime, as well as the entry of corporates with greater bargaining power than small farmers. During the Lok Sabha’s debate on the Bills, which extended its session by almost three hours, Opposition parties also slammed the Centre for overstepping its Constitutional jurisdiction, as agriculture is a subject on the States’ list. States will also be deprived of much-needed revenue as transactions outside the APMC mandi s could not be taxed, said Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
“MSP was, is, and will continue to remain in future,” said Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, not responding to Opposition demands to include MSP as a legal entitlement for all farmers in the legislation. Responding to the debate, he said the Bills would give farmers more choice, with competition for their produce leading to remunerative prices, and improved infrastructure and services. He said States’ APMC Acts would continue to remain in force, and farmers were free to sell in the mandi s as well. Mr. Tomar also pointed out that the Congress Party had also made similar promises regarding APMC deregulation.
SAD chief and MP Sukhbir Singh Badal also emphasised that the Congress had included abolition of APMCs in its own election manifesto. “It is Congress that is doing a U-turn, not the Shiromani Akali Dal,” he said. At the concludion of his speech, he announced that his wife and Union Minister Ms. Badal would quit over the party’s opposition to these Bills and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 that was cleared by the Lok Sabha on Wednesday. Ms. Badal was seen walking out of the House as the speech concluded and making her way to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Parliamentary office.
Speaking to The Hindu , Rajya Sabha MP from SAD Naresh Gujral said that Ms. Badal would be quitting her Ministerial post as “under the principle of collective responsibility you cannot vote against a government bill and still be part of the Cabinet”.
Mr. Sukhbir Singh Badal said that the question over whether the party will continue in the National Democratic Alliance and its future course of action will be decided after a meeting with other party leaders at a later date.