Upping the ante against farm bills, the Congress party has decided to stage a demonstration across the country. The Congress party will also be collecting signatures of at least two crore farmers for a memorandum against the legislation which will be submitted to the president.
Yesterday, the Congress party convened the first physical meeting at 12 Akbar Road headquarters since the coronavirus outbreak. In the meeting, Congress general secretaries and state-in-charges decided to initiate a massive people's movement against the farm bills before the bill gets President's nod and turns into a law.
Last week, the two contentious farm bills--the Farmer's Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 were passed in the Lok Sabha. And, on Sunday, farm bills were passed after utter chaos and uproar in the Upper House. Now, only President Ramnath Kovind's nod is left to turn these bills into a law.
Yesterday, at least 18 opposition parties wrote to the President to highlight their concerns and urge him not to sign the bills. MPs are also sitting on an indefinite protest at parliament premises.
Congress MP KC Venugopal alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was "misleading the country" by making allegations against the Opposition. Party's senior spokesperson Randeep Surjewala also hit out at the government, alleging that the livelihood of farmers and labourers was "being ended".
At a press conference after the meeting, senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel said the opposition party will take the farm bills issue to the people not only at the state level, but at the district and village levels.
"We discussed the political situation of the country especially the farmers' agitation. The way the government of India is bulldozing anti-farmers' laws in Parliament, it is totally unacceptable to the country and the people of India," said Venugopal.
"First this government did 'notebandi', then with GST brought 'vyaparbandi', then with lockdown did 'deshbandi' and is now planning 'khetbandi'," Surjewala alleged.
OPPOSITION PARTIES' PROTEST
In the next four days, Congress chief ministers, Pradesh Congress Committee presidents, Congress legislative party leaders along with MPs, MLAs, and senior leaders will walk from the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) office or a prominent place like Mahatma Gandhi statue to the Raj Bhavan. Then on September 28, the party's leaders will submit a memorandum to the Governor, addressed to the President of India, seeking withdrawal of these farm bills.
On October 2, the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri, Congress will observe 'Save farmers and farm labourers day'. "We will hold dharnas and marches in every state and district headquarters across India against the agriculture bills, asking for their immediate withdrawal," Venugopal said.
On October 10, the party's state units will organise 'kisaan sammelans'. Additionally, between October 2 and 31, Congress workers will go to villages and collect signatures from farmers against the contentious bills.
Two crore signatures will be collected and the memorandum against the bills will be submitted to the President on Jawaharlal Nehru's birth anniversary on November 14, Surjewala informed in a press conference.
Besides, Friday, September 25, is set to be a red-letter day in opposition parties' protests against the bills, with a number of rallies and demonstrations planned. The Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) will hold a nationwide protest and carry out roadblocks. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has decided to support the September 25 Punjab 'bandh' call given by various farmers' outfits against the three new farm bills. As many as 30 farmers' outfits have already given a call for the complete shutdown of Punjab on September 25 in protest against the three farm bills.
The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee has also called for a protest on Friday in which at least 10 trade unions have offered their support. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK and its allies have announced protests starting September 28. The Left Front and associated parties will block roads and hold protest rallies with farmers in Bengal.
WHAT ARE THE CONCERNS OVER THE FARM BILLS?
The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 seeks to give freedom to farmers to sell their produce outside the notified APMC market yards (mandis). This, the government says, is aimed at facilitating remunerative prices through competitive alternative trading channels. Farmers will not be charged any cess or levy for sale of their production under this Act, according to the government.
However, farmers' outfits are apprehensive that small/poor farmers will have a negative impact because of this new bill as they will find it difficult to negotiate directly with large-scale buyers. They might also find it difficult to avail better prices at markets because of constraints on travel and storage.
According to farmers, mandis play a crucial role in ensuring timely payments to them. Removing these markets, or allowing corporates direct access, without offering an alternative, such as regulated direct-purchase centres, does not make sense.
The second bill cleared in parliament--Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 seeks to give farmers the right to enter into a contract with agribusiness firms, processors, wholesalers, exporters, or large retailers for the sale of future farming produce at a pre-agreed price. It seeks to transfer the risk of market unpredictability from farmers to sponsors.
Farmers are worried MSP (a price guaranteed by the government) will be removed. According to farmers' organisation, small and marginal farmers might get vulnerable to disadvantageous contracts unless the sale prices continue to be regulated. Although the Centre has assured the MSPs will not be removed, farmers are concerned allowing prices to be settled outside regulated mandis will make it difficult for the government to monitor each transaction individually.
In addition to farmers' concerns, state governments - particularly those in Punjab and Haryana - fear that if private buyers start purchasing directly from farmers, they will lose out on taxes that are charged at mandis. The potential scrapping of mandis would also endanger the jobs of millions who work there.
(With agencies input)