Oppn creating row over issues not in the laws: Gajendra Shekhawat


NEW DELHI: The Congress and a clutch of other opposition parties are misleading the people about the three farm laws just as they created misgivings about the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, or CAA, by obfuscating the facts, Union minister or water resources Gajendra Shekhawat said in response to the criticism of the new legislation. The minister also questioned why the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) chose to remain silent about the provisions of the laws when the ordinances were brought six months ago. The government says the legislation is designed to boost the interests of the farming community by widening their market access; the opposition alleges that they will instead leave farmers at the mercy of corporate entities. Edited excerpts:

Why this reluctance to include minimum support price (MSP) in the laws. If this is good legislation, then why not allow the opposition to scrutinise it more?

To create a controversy about issues that are not part of the bill has become the modus operandi of the Congress and a few other opposition parties. Their criticism is without basis. They are trying to create a deterrent in the progress of the country. And there are many examples that I can give you about this, the latest being the criticism and the commotion that they created about the CAA. What was the basic idea of the CAA; it called for fast-tracking citizenship to persecuted minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. It did not talk about taking away the citizenship of anyone based on religion, or having to prove one’s citizenship based on hundred-year old documents. But the Congress created a controversy. Similarly, in the case of the farm bills, they are creating a conspiracy about issues that or not even part of the bill, for example MSP. For 50 years in this country, the agricultural scenario remained unchanged; we moved from being a food-deficit country to a food -sufficient and now a surplus country, but the policy decisions that should have been in place to plan ahead were missing. India is among the top 10 agri-export nations, but no decisions were taken during the 10 years of the UPA {United Progressive Alliance} rule, which led to farmers’ distress. To address that, Atal Bihari Vajpayee as PM set up the National Farmers Commission under the chairmanship of MS Swaminathan, which gave detailed reports based on extensive consultations conducted between 2004 and 2006. He talked about the problems as well as the way forward. But what did the Congress do between 2006 and 2014? There are many things that the Swaminathan commission spoke about including land and irrigation reforms, increasing farm incomes and creating alternative sources of income.

The Modi government tried to holistically address all these issues.

As for the issue of MSP, the government ensured that between 50- 100% of the crop production cost is given as MSP for as many as 22 notified crops. But what if we had only announced it, not make the procurement? So, there has been 42% growth in MSP that has added over a lakh a year to the income of the farmers and procurement has increased by 25 times over what was being procured during the UPA regime. Besides, MSP is an administrative order.

Did you fail to convince your former ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal. Even the Bharatiya KIsan Sangh (BKS) has apprehensions about MSPs not being part of the laws.

If the SAD was not convinced and had problems with the ordinances, which were brought six months ago. they should have left the government then. They have been part of discussions and talks with agriculture minister during outreach to farmers’ representatives and groups where they have supported the contents of the ordinances. Now for the own political interest, they have done a U-turn. This is not following a coalition dharma. They are now opposing a decision of which they were part six months ago. To protect their political interests, the opposition is conspiring to give the farmers a bad name.

As for the BKS; they are an independent organisation that works with the farmers. But they have also raised the issue of MSP over which the Congress and the other opposition parties are creating misgivings.

The new water policy which is in the pipeline talks of allowing water-surplus states to trade their excess supply, how will it work?

We have formed a committee under {economist} Mihir Shah. After wide consultations, it has given a basic draft of the policy. We are discussing it, but we have requested them to clarify some more issues and once that comes, we will study it internally and then take it to the stakeholders. I think it (policy) should be ready in the first quarter of the next year. It is an important document that is going to be a guiding book for the next couple of years.

What is the status of the Inter-State Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill?

We already have tribunals in place. It has been observed that as per the act (Interstate Water Disputes Act) while under section 5(2), the tribunal have to give their judgment within three years, under section 5(3) any state or stakeholder can file an appeal. There is a time limit of one year for disposal of appeals, but it can be further extended with no time limit. A tribunal like the Ravi Beas Tribunal which was established as a special case and the act was amended since it was a part of the Rajiv {Gandhi} {Harchand Singh} Longowal accord {of 1985}. The act was amended to mandate the tribunal to conclude the hearing within a period of one year. And the basic requirement as per the act was that a negotiation committee will be formed that will resolve issues between states within six months.

To bypass that clause, an amendment was made. That particular tribunal that was mandated to give a recommendation within a year has been working for 32 years. So we brought a bill to fix a time limit and establish a single permanent tribunal.

It was unanimously passed in the Lok Sabha, but again Punjab has opposed it and the SAD has done a U-turn. They have now said that the issue of water sharing should be taken up from scratch and whatever has been done all these years needs to be revisited. Hopefully it will be discussed in the next session.

Will the Jal Jeevan Mission that promises piped water to every household in India by 2024 meet its target?

The Prime Minister had announced this flagship programme from the ramparts of the Red Fort. There are 18.5 crore rural households. When the Prime Minister made the announcement, only 3.53 crore had water; so far we have been able to take water to 2.60 crore households and from the date of the announcement till date, 6.60 crore households have drinking water. Even during the Corona pandemic, with the aid of the state governments, we have been able to provide between 1 to 1.25 lakh connections. Our aim is not only to provide piped water, but quality drinking water. We want to ensure that 55 litre per capita is offered and that there is an NABL {the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories} accredited lab in every district to test the quality of water.



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