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“PM Modi distorted Congress manifesto”: P Chidambaram on farm bills row

New Delhi: Congress MP P Chidambaram hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP spokespersons over the farm bills controversy Saturday morning, accusing them of “deliberately and maliciously” distorting the party’s 2019 manifesto amid a political row between the ruling party and the opposition on this issue.

“The Prime Minister and BJP spokespersons have deliberately and maliciously distorted the Congress manifesto… Farmers need multiple (easily) accessible markets and choices. The Congress’ proposals would have given them that,” Chidambaram said in his statement.

The statement comes after Akali Dal MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal (who resigned as a Union Minister in protest over the bills) and suspended Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha pointed out, separately, that the opposition party had also proposed the abolition of the Agricultural Market Produce Committees (APMC) Act ahead of Lok Sabha elections last year.

One of the bills passed by the Lok Sabha on Thursday does just that – the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill gives farmers the choice to sell their produce at competitive prices anywhere in the country.

However, Chidambaram said the Congress would have ensured “multiple accessible markets” for farmers looking to sell their produce before scrapping the APMC Act.

“Once that was accomplished the Congress manifesto promise of repealing APMC Act and making trade in agricultural produce free would have been a natural sequel,” he added.

The former Union Finance Minister pointed out the manifesto also promised to promote farmers’ companies/organisations to enable access to technology and set up adequate infrastructure in large villages and small towns.

The government, however, Chidambaram claimed, had “surrendered to the corporates and traders”, pointing to the absence of a clause linking the price farmers would get from private buyers to the Minimum Support Price (MSP).

“Why is such a clause absent?” he asked, adding, “The bills (also) undermine the only regulated market available to the farmer without creating thousands of alternatives”.

“The bills (also) assume perversely that the farmer and the private purchaser have equal bargaining power. They do not. The small farmer will be at the mercy of the private purchaser,” he added.

The government has said the farm bills will help small and marginal farmers. The bills seek to empower farmers through written agreements and farmers can sell their produce at competitive prices anywhere in the country, the government has said.

However, farmers fear this means they will no longer be able to sell at a minimum price (one dictated by the government). Massive protests have broken out across Punjab and Haryana as the bills are set to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha Sunday.

Badal said she had repeatedly asked the government to listen to concerns raised by the farmers, saying farmers feel they will be “at the mercy of these private players”. “This is the apprehension they have. The centre should talk to them to clear this fear,” she said.

On Friday, Prime Minister Modi hit out at what he said was a “misinformation” campaign against the bills and asserted that farmers would continue to get a MSP.

“Fake news is being spread that wheat and rice etc will not be procured by government agencies from farmers. This is an absolute lie, completely wrong and an attempt to deceive farmers,” he said forcefully.

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