Interview | Centre trying to break back of Punjab economy: state Congress chief3 min read . Updated: 12 Nov 2020, 04:15 PM IST
- The Centre has withheld GST payments and the rural development fees (payable to the state for procurement of grains at support prices), says Sunil Jakhar
New Delhi: Punjab has been on the boil for close to two months now, ever since the Centre passed a new set of laws liberalising India’s trade laws in agriculture. Amid the standoff between the Centre and farmer organisations, Indian Railways decided not to run freight trains in Punjab if protesting farmers do not allow passenger trains to ply. According to Sunil Jakhar, state Congress chief, the Centre is arm-twisting Punjab by imposing ‘economic sanctions’ and trying to create a rift within the state. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What sectors are affected by these ‘economic sanctions’?
All industrial production is impacted but the worst affected is the cycle industry. No raw material is coming in; no finished product is going out. There is a shortage of fertilisers. All power plants are shut due to shortage of coal. We are purchasing power from the spot market—that requires cash and we have no money. Some ₹12,000 crore of GST and ₹1,100 crore of rural development fees are due from Centre. But I would say farmers are getting carried away and playing into the hands of BJP. By blocking rail tracks, they are undercutting the kind of support they had earlier from everyone in the state. Now a rift is being created between them and the industry. The farmers should move the protest to Delhi where the Centre can feel the heat.
What are the next steps in resolving the issue?
The intention of the Centre is suspect; there is no will to resolve the issue. The unfolding situation looks premeditated...the Centre is trying to break the back of the Punjab economy and arm-twist us. This is a dangerous brinkmanship which the Central government is playing; they are testing who will blink first -- the farmers or the state government. And this attempt to isolate Punjab by putting in place economic sanctions and a railway blockade is hurting the state's economy.
The Centre has withheld GST payments and the rural development fees (payable to the state for procurement of grains at support prices). It is trying to create bad blood between traders and industrialists in Punjab and protesting farmers who the BJP seems to have written off. The message to the industry is that you are being hurt due to the actions of the state government which has no intention to sort this out.
Now, people of Punjab and the youth won’t take this lightly—it's a powder keg which may ignite. The state will suffer. The Centre can wash their hands off as they don’t have much at stake politically. I do not see an early resolution. The standoff and polarisation in Punjab is opening a Pandora’s box. Some elements sitting in Canada and Germany are trying to make inroads. The Centre is trying to create a divide, first between industry and farmers, and then (between) Jat Sikhs and Dalits.
Why is only Punjab on the boil when farm laws are for the entire country?
The MSP (minimum support price) question is tailor-made for Punjab. For the farmer, there is nothing certain about agriculture except for MSP...the promise that you produce and we will buy from you at a certain price was enough to trigger for the green revolution. Most of the migrants who come to Punjab from Bihar or Uttar Pradesh have 2-3 acres of land back home; but they come to toil here because they don’t get the benefit of MSP and assured purchase. Nowhere in the country will you find the rural road network and procurement infrastructure like in Punjab. MSP is the reason behind the prosperity in Punjab... even today the rent for an acre of land in Punjab is ₹60,000 (per year) and that is because of assured purchase of crops. The Prime Minister has said that MSP will remain. The problem is, will open ended purchase at MSP continue?
So, the standoff will continue?
I think the Centre has invested too much of personal image into these laws. They will not budge but the best one could hope for is they agree to look at certain aspects of the bills...I personally would like to believe my Prime Minister but there is total lack of credibility. They promised no changes to the existing procurement mechanism in Punjab but withheld the rural development fees. Eventually they will cap MSP-based purchase in Punjab and Haryana.
The way the Centre is arm twisting states...they want to bring down states to their knees, make them like municipalities, a situation where states will be begging for every penny. These larger issues (of cooperative federalism) have never been debated in the Parliament.