Confident of getting the upper hand in the ongoing internal Congress tussle, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh is upping the ante on farmer issues like a “measly” hike in procurement price of paddy by the Centre and the stalemate between farmers and Centre over farm laws, which his camp sees as a major factor going in its favour in the 2022 assembly polls.
The CM has questioned the “grossly inadequate” hike in the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of paddy by the Union Cabinet two days ago, terming it an “insult to the farmers” who are agitating against the three farm laws. The Centre had two days ago raised the MSP of paddy by Rs 72 to Rs 1940 per quintal for the marketing season of 2021-22.
The present sowed paddy crop will be harvested in October-November this year, close on the heels of the state elections. “The less than 4% hike in MSP of paddy is not even enough to meet the increased input costs, given the extraordinary hike in diesel and other costs over the past one year,” the chief minister has said.
Not to be left behind, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) also slammed its erstwhile partner for the “cruel joke” in increasing the paddy MSP by just Rs 72. “This will take agriculture back instead of doubling farm income as promised by the NDA government. This meagre hike doesn’t even cover the cost of agricultural inputs like diesel and fertilizers,” SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal has said.
The Captain camp is however saying SAD’s stand is political and hypocritical ahead of elections. “What did SAD do while being in NDA all these years to get farmers MSP at 50% more than the weighted average cost of production, as per Swaminathan committee recommendations? Farmers know who has stood by them,” a senior Punjab Congress leader said.
An official in the central government said the cost of paddy for farmers was at Rs 1293 per quintal as per their estimate and farmers in fact stood to earn a return of 50 per cent above their cost in the present Kharif season given the MSP of Rs 1940. “The Centre has procured 816 Lakh Metric Tonnes (LMTs) of paddy in the country in 2020-21 which is an all-time record, surpassing 773 LMTs of paddy procured in 2019-20,” the senior official argued.
Both the Congress and SAD have also re-started their attacks on the Centre for not engaging with the agitating farmers who have been sitting on Delhi’s borders for six months. “It is not enough for the Union Agricuture Minister to say doors for talks with farmers were open. The Government of India should repeal the farm laws and then sit across the table with the farmers to come out with genuine and meaningful reforms in agriculture,” the CM said.
Sukhbir Badal has also urged the Centre to be “sensitive to the pain of farmer sitting on Delhi’s borders” and hold fresh talks with them. “500 farmers have laid down their lives fighting against the three controversial farm laws but instead of resolving the issue, the NDA government is effectively telling the peaceful protestors that there is no space for discussion in a democracy,” Badal has said.
The Centre however terms a record procurement on MSP in both the recent Kharif and Rabi seasons as proof that the MSP system is not going away and the new farm laws only give an additional avenue to farmers to get a better price.
“The new farm laws gave this very option to farmers — to get a better price than the MSP in the open market for their produce but the political parties in Punjab are blocking these laws,” a central government fucntionary said. Centre has procured 418 LMTs of wheat in 2021-22 so far, already exceeding the previous high of 389 LMTs in 2020-21.