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Union Minister Harsimrat Badal quits over Centres new bills for farmers

New Delhi: Akali Dal’s Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigned from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s cabinet on Thursday as her party faced heat from farmers in Punjab over its initial support to ally BJP’s farm sector bills. The minister, a supporter of the bill who was part of the cabinet meet that cleared it, resigned shortly before the voting on the bills in the Lok Sabha. Her husband and party chief Sukhbir Badal said the Akalis will continue to support the government from outside but oppose “anti-farmer policies”. Calling her resignation “normal course of action for any Akali”, Ms Badal tweeted that she was “Proud to stand with farmers as their daughter & sister”.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said Harsimrat Kaur’s resignation was “too little too late”. Questioning the Akali Dal’s decision to continue to remain a part of the ruling NDA, he said the resignation was nothing more than a gimmick to fool the farmers of Punjab.

The bills — which the BJP claims is big ticket reform in the agri sector — have hugely upset the farmers of Punjab and Haryana, who have been holding protests for weeks. The government said the bills, which would replace the three ordinances issued in June, will help farmers across the country get a better market and price for their produce.

The Akalis, who initially supported the laws, made a U-turn this week after realising the depth of the farmers’ resentment. The party had appealed to the Centre to hold off the bills till the concerns of the farmers are addressed.

But with the BJP deciding to push through the bills, the Akalis decided to withdraw support and vote against the bills in parliament today.

In his speech during a discussion on two of the bills — the Produce Trade and Commerce and the Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill — Sukhbir Singh Badal said the proposed laws will “destroy” the 50 years of hard work done by successive Punjab governments to build the farm sector.

Earlier, Mr Badal had claimed that Harsimrat Kaur had “expressed reservations when the matter was taken up during a cabinet meeting”. She had said her ministry opposed the proposal during the inter-ministerial consultation too.

But most political parties have been sceptical about the claim. Calling the claim “totally wrong”, Punjab Health minister Balbir Singh Sidhu said “If you are genuinely sympathetic towards the interests of farmers and Punjab, then immediately break the party’s ties with the Modi government at the Centre”.

As of now, only the BJP and its allies are supporting the bills. The rest, including Naveen Patnaik’s Biju Janata Dal and the TRS, which usually lend issue-based support to the government, are opposing it.

“Farmers trust in Shiromani Akali Dal is sacred to us and we are proud to preserve the glorious legacy of fight for farmers,” Harsimrat Kaur Badal said. “I have resigned from Union Cabinet in protest against anti-farmer ordinances and legislation. Proud to stand with farmers as their daughter & sister,” she tweeted later.

On Tuesday, Mr Badal voted against the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, which seeks to deregulate agricultural food items, including cereals, pulses and onion.

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