With NCP chief Sharad Pawar backing farmers’ protest against the contentious agri reforms, government sources on Sunday pointed out that as the agriculture minister in the UPA dispensation he had asked chief ministers to amend the APMC Act in their states to allow the private sector to play an important role in the field. Sharing the content of some letters he had written to various chief ministers, the sources claimed that the BJP-led NDA government has made the same set of changes in the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act as pushed by Pawar when he was the union minister.
Pawar is scheduled to meet President Ram Nath Kovind on December 9 over the ongoing farmers’ protest against the new agrarian laws after the NCP joined other opposition parties in supporting the ‘Bharat Bandh’ called on December 8 by farmer unions, which have demanded the repeal of the Centre’s new agri-marketing laws. The government sources said Pawar in a 2010 letter to the then Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit that the agriculture sector needs well-functioning markets to drive growth, employment and economic prosperity in rural area of the country.
“This requires huge investments in marketing infrastructure including cold-chain. And for this, private sector participation is essential, for which an appropriate regulatory and policy environment needs to be in place,” his letter said, calling for amending the state APMC Act. In a letter on similar lines to the then Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, Pawar had underlined the need for investments in post-harvest and marketing infrastructure from the farm gate to the consumer and said “private sector needs to play an important role in this regard”.
Pawar was the union agriculture, consumer affairs, food and public distribution minister in the then Manmohan Singh-led government. Earlier on Sunday, Pawar asked the Centre to take serious cognisance of the ongoing farmers’ protest and said if the deadlock continues, the agitation will not be limited to Delhi and people from across the country will stand by the protesting farmers.
The ruling BJP has accused the opposition of playing politics on the matter and noted that the manifesto of the main opposition party, the Congress, had also batted for some of the reforms the Modi government has ushered in. Prominent opposition leaders including Congress president Sonia Gandhi, NCP leader Sharad Pawar, CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, DMK chief M K Stalin and PAGD chairman Farooq Abdullah issued a joint statement on Sunday supporting the call for Bharat Bandh on December 8 by farmer groups and pressed the Centre to meet the legitimate demands of the protesters.
Protesting farmer unions have demanded the repeal of all three laws Parliament had passed in the last session. The government has been holding talks with union leaders, and the next round of dialogue is scheduled for December 9.