Harsimrat Kaur Badal said she kept on pleading with the government not to move ahead with these bills without taking farmers on board.
A day after resigning from Union Cabinet in protest against farm bills, senior SAD leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal on Friday said she feels “saddened” that her voice in support of farmers was not heard and demanded that the government should pause on these legislations by referring them to a parliamentary panel for wider consultations.
“I left my mother in ICU in the hospital to fulfill my duty to attend Parliament debate on these three legislations and register my protest. Thereafter I resigned in protest against these proposed legislations,” Ms,. Badal told PTI in an interview.
She resigned soon after her husband and SAD president Sukhbir Singh Badal strongly opposed the bills in Lok Sabha on Thursday night, claiming these proposed legislations will “destroy” the agriculture sector in Punjab, and announced that Harsimrat Kaur Badal will quit the government in protest against these three bills.
Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who first became Union Minister for Food Processing in 2014 and retained the portfolio in the second term of the BJP-led NDA government starting 2019, said she kept on pleading with the government not to move ahead with these bills without taking farmers on board.
SAD voted against the three bills — Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, which were passed by voice vote in Lok Sabha.
Congress and several other opposition parties are also opposing these bills, while SAD is the only NDA member to come out against these proposed legislations that seek to replace the ordinances already promulgated by the government.
“I kept on protesting ever since these ordinances were circulated for comments in the Cabinet. I was acting like a bridge between farmers and the government to clear all doubts and fears of farmers. I kept on pleading that the government should not bring these bills until all apprehensions and fears of farmers are cleared,” she said.
She said there is no point in bringing these bills while presenting them as being in the interest of farmers when the farmers themselves have apprehensions about these measures.
“I feel very saddened about the fact that my voice was not heard in the Cabinet and the government did not send it to a parliamentary select committee for consultations with all stakeholders including farmers. If my voice had been heard, farmers would not have come out on roads to protest,” she said.
Emphasising that the government should not rush with these bills, Mr. Badal said it should be referred to a select committee of Parliament and all stakeholders should be consulted on these proposed legislations.
On her resignation, Ms. Harsimrat said, “Please don’t see this as a resignation, as this was my duty as a representative of Punjab and of farmers.”
On Punjab Chief Minister and Congress leader Amarinder Singh calling her resignation a “drama”, hitting back at him she said, “He himself is the biggest drama and the biggest liar.”
“Amarinder Singh and Congress are doing double-speak. When these ordinances were planned, all Chief Ministers were consulted and he had concurred. Also, these three bills were part of the Congress party’s manifesto for the 2017 assembly elections manifesto and the 2019 Lok Sabha elections,” she said.
Ms. Badal said Mr. Singh failed to fulfill all other promises made in the Congress party’s manifesto, barring this one and farmers in Punjab are now on roads and are paying the price for his misdeeds.
Large-scale protests by farmers in Punjab against these measures have put the regional party, which draws its support mainly from peasants, under pressure, culminating in the resignation of its only representative in the government.
BJP and SAD have been seen as natural allies which date back to the days of Jan Sangh, the precursor of the saffron party. Both parties have been contesting elections in alliance since 1997.
Asked whether SAD would pull out of the NDA also, Badal said it was for the party to decide and a collective decision would be taken on that issue by all senior leaders together. Assembly elections are due in Punjab in 2022.
Ms. Badal had also recalled this decades-old association between the two parties in her resignation letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday.
The alliance formed by two legendary icons, Sardar Parkash Singh Badal and Atal Behari Vajpayee not only revived the faith of the Sikh masses in justice and fair play but also served as the most enduring guarantee of peace and communal harmony in Punjab, she said in the letter adding that she is confident that both parties would continue to work together to maintain peace and communal harmony in Punjab.
Describing her tenure as minister as “a remarkable and most memorable period of my life”, she said she was satisfied that the NDA-led government delivered on many critical and long-standing issues of the Sikh community, including justice for 1984 riots victims.
She also recounted the historic opening of the Kartarpur Sahib corridor and GST waiver on ‘langar’, permission granted to foreign donations to the Darbar Sahib as major achievements.
The government has presented these bills as pro-farmers, saying these will ensure that farmers get better prices for their produce and do not get subjected to regulations of ‘mandis’
Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar had said on Thursday in Lok Sabha that farmers will be free to sell their produce to anyone and these bills will increase competition and promote private investment, which will help in the development of farm infrastructure and generate employment.
However, opposition parties have slammed the bills as “anti-farmers”, claiming that the agriculture sector will be left to the fate of corporate interests.