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Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh
Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh

Punjab’s farm bill likely to focus on regulating private players

  • Captain Amarinder Singh-led government’s framework is expected to focus on regulating the entry of private players in the agriculture sector and laying down the norms for their functioning

NEW DELHI : Congress-ruled Punjab’s proposed framework, aimed at negating the impact of the three recently implemented central farm bills, is likely to be presented in the state’s legislative assembly on Tuesday. Captain Amarinder Singh-led government’s framework is expected to focus on regulating the entry of private players in the agriculture sector and laying down the norms for their functioning.

The state government is treading cautiously as it anticipates a political backlash from the two key opposition parties in the state – Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) – along with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including the possibility of an appeal to Governor VP Singh Badnore to take action.

“It can either be one or multiple bills. The focus is going to be on regulating private players, no one is blocking them. So, we are looking at bringing norms like mandatory registration for any person or entity which enters the agricultural market, paying all related taxes and declaring every transaction made with farmers or farm organizations so that the state government can monitor it to ensure that farmers get their due," said a senior Congress leader from Punjab involved in the deliberations, requesting anonymity.

Senior leaders are hopeful that the bills could get passed in the assembly on Tuesday, in which case Punjab will become the first state to take legislative steps to negate the central laws. The move could spur other opposition ruled states, at least those under Congress like Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, to bring in similar laws in order to step up pressure on the Centre over the move. Congress president Sonia Gandhi has already conveyed to the Congress-ruled states to bring legislations negating the impact of the central laws on agriculture.

Punjab government is of the view that since minimum support price (MSP) is under the centre’s purview, the changes to negate central laws can be brought by ensuring that farmers are on a ‘strong footing’ while dealing with private players and market conditions. It is however also considering penalizing buying of produce below MSP.

“It is a very tricky question and till late Monday evening we were looking into the finer details. We want to ensure that whatever step we take, it is constitutionally strong. Opposition in the state could appeal to the Governor and we want to make sure that there is no shortcoming from our end from a constitutional perspective," the leader quoted above added. The assembly session which began on Monday saw high drama with members of opposition protesting why copies of the bills were not distributed in the House.

Even as the Punjab government is likely to pass the Bill in the legislative assembly on Tuesday, most of the opposition parties have alleged that the state government had not shared the Bills with them and they were unaware of the details of the Bills.

“We want the benefit of farmers and we will support any legislations which talks about bring greater benefits to farmers but our support will depend on the contours of the Bills. We have not been shared any details of the Bills so our support to the Bills would depend on the contents of the Bills. Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is a party of farmers so we are committed to work for their benefit," said a Chandigarh-based senior SAD leader.

The passage of the three farm laws by centre has led to a series of protests particularly in Punjab and Haryana with farmers and farm bodies demanding repeal of the laws. Prime Minister Naraendra Modi-led Union government has maintained that the laws will usher in a new era of farm reforms, freeing the sector with interference of middle men and bringing in new technology.

President Ram Nath Kovind last month gave assent to three farm bills which have now become laws including - The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020.

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