Centre's power and agri reforms run into opposition from Congress CMs

The two plan to enlist support of other opposition chief ministers on the two issues, both of which they have argued are anti-farmer and anti-poor
Two Congress chief ministers, Chhattisgarh’s Bhupesh Baghel and Punjab’s Amarinder Singh, have opposed the Centre’s proposed “reforms” in the power and agriculture sectors.

The two plan to enlist support of other opposition chief ministers on the two issues, both of which they have argued are anti-farmer and anti-poor.

In a letter to union power and renewable energy minister RK Singh on Friday, Baghel said the Electricity Amendment Bill, 2020, was against the interest of farmers and the poor.

Baghel said the proposed legislation would lead to lower crop productivity and hurt food self-sufficiency. He said the bill also violated the rights of the states.

On June 1, thousands of power sector employees across India had protested the Centre’s proposed bill.

Meanwhile, Punjab’s Singh has said the state will oppose “tooth and nail” the Centre’s “so called agriculture reforms”.

Singh said he will write to the prime minister that these “reforms” will do away with the minimum support price (MSP) regime and hurt the interests of farmers.

The Centre on Friday promulgated two ordinances - the ‘farmers’ produce trade and commerce (promotion and facilitation) and the farmers (empowerment and protection) agreement on price assurance and farm services ordinances.

The ordinances aim to improve intrastate and interstate trade of agriculture produce. The Centre said there is a need to facilitate farmers to sell agriculture produce at a place of their choice at a better price by increasing the number of prospective buyers.

However, such a system would further shrink revenues of state governments, especially the mandi tax.

In his letter to the union power minister, Baghel said the subsidy to farmers needs to continue or they would face crisis in irrigating crops. He said “capacity to pay” and “cost of supply” cannot be the only guiding principles to determine tariff.

The Chhattisgarh CM said most farmers cannot afford front end payment of Rs 7-8,000 in electricity charges per month, assuming their consumption is 1,000 units per month, during the farming season.

Baghel said the bill was against the federal spirit as it takes away the rights of the states by instituting State Electricity Regulatory Commissions (SERCs) under the ambit of the Centre. He said the bill provides only for “consultation” and not “concurrence” of the state governments.

The bill provides for appointment of sub-licensees and franchisees, which Baghel said is against the principle of checks and balances as sub-licensees and franchisees are not obliged to take licenses from the regulatory commission.

Baghel also opposed setting up of a Centralized Electrical Contract Enforcement Authority (ECEA). He said the proposal would make SERCs “toothless” and is “detrimental” to the federal structure.

Baghel said the timing of the proposed amendment is “perplexing” when the entire country is struggling to battle the Covid-19 pandemic. He asked whether the bill is deliberately being pushed, as some critics have pointed out, at the current juncture to circumvent any opposition that it might face?

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