Punjab Passes Farm Laws To Counter Centre, Jail For Those Violating MSP

One of the three counter-bills passed by Punjab allows authorities to jail, for not less than three years, any individual who buys, or sells, wheat or paddy below the government-mandated MSP

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said he was not afraid of resigning over the farm laws

Chandigarh:

Punjab has become the first state to formally reject and counter the three controversial farm laws passed by the centre last month amid unprecedented chaos in parliament. On Tuesday the state Assembly - in a matter of minutes - first approved a resolution against the centre's laws, and then introduced and cleared three bills - each of which is designed to counter one of the centre's laws.

One of the three counter-bills allows authorities to impose fine and a jail term of not less than three years on any individual who buys, or sells, wheat or paddy below the government-mandated MSP (minimum support price) - the alleged removal of MSPs, as claimed by critics of the centre's laws, was one of the biggest flash-points in farmers' protests that took place across the country.

The bill adds that any one harassing farmers to sell below the MSP will be punished too.

Another prevents hoarding and black-marketing of food grains, while farmers with holdings of up to 2.5 acres are offered relief against their land being attached.

Shortly before the counter-bills were passed Chief Minister Amarinder Singh said he was "not afraid of resigning" and would not let "farmers suffer or be ruined".

Punjab has emerged as the epicentre of protests against the centre's farm laws, with Congress MP Rahul Gandhi leading tractor rallies in the state.

Last month Congress chief Sonia Gandhi asked states where the party was in power to bring in laws to overrule the ones passed by the centre. The constitutional rule she referred to allows state legislatures to enforce laws "repugnant to the parliament law", if they get presidential approval.

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Farmers across the country have protested against the centre's farm laws

The three counter-bills passed by the Punjab Assembly today now require Governor VP Singh Badnore's assent before they become law.

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Critics of the centre's laws have said it will rob farmers of access to a minimum support price - guaranteed sale prices that are a source of credit in hard times like droughts and crop failure, and removal of which will severely impact small and marginal farmers.

Critics have also pointed out that the entry of private players - facilitated by the centre's laws allowing farmers to sell to institutional buyers rather than to a middleman at a government-controlled wholesale market - will weaken farmers' bargaining powers and affect, once again, smaller and marginal famers.

The government has insisted that by removing any barrier to inter- and intra-state trade of farm and agricultural produce, it is empowering farmers to sell their goods at markets and prices of their choice.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly assured farmers that MSPs will not be scrapped, but verbal assurances have done little to ease concerns.

The three bills cleared by the Punjab Assembly today are - Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment Bill 2020; the Essential Commodities (Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment) Bill 2020; and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services (Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment) Bill 2020.