Old laws a burden, need reforms to build new century, says PM Modi

Members of Sikh organisations stage a protest in solidarity with farmers’ agitation over Centre’s farm reform laws, in Hyderabad Photo: PTI
A day ahead of the Bharat Bandh called by protesting farmers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi asserted on Monday that reforms are needed for development, and said some laws of the past century have become a “burden” in the current times.

The government believes in all-round holistic reforms, he stressed after inaugurating the construction of the Agra Metro project via video conferencing. “Reforms are needed for development. Some laws which used to be good in the past century, have become a burden in the present century,” he said. “Our government is doing holistic reforms. Earlier reforms used to happen in a piecemeal manner,” Modi said. “We cannot build the next century with the laws of the previous century.”

His remarks came in the backdrop of ongoing protests by farmers against three new farms laws. The farmers have called for a Bharat Bandh on Tuesday, which is likely to have the most extensive impact in the states of Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh, apart from Delhi. It is uncertain what impact it will have on other parts of the country as it will be in force only from 11 am to 3 pm and some traders’ and transporters’ bodies have announced that they will stay out of it.

The National Federation of Indian Railwaymen has also decided to support the agitation by staging dharnas and demonstration at several places.

In the national capital, the All India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), one of the largest bodies of transporters, has expressed solidarity with the agitating farmers. However, some other organisations like the Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) and All India Transporters Welfare Association (AITWA) said traders and transporters will not be participating in the Bharat Bandh called on December 8, according to PTI. Essential services, including medical services, are exempt, and the farmers’ organisations say they will not disrupt everyday life, including office-goers proceeding to work and marriages and “if there is a marriage, they can show the invitation cards and go”.

“Tomorrow’s Bharat Bandh is a symbolic protest,” Bharatiya Kisan Union Spokesperson Rakesh Tikait said. The bandh is from 11 am to 3 pm.

Addressing a press conference, farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal said no one will be forced to shut down their establishment. Most Opposition political parties, barring the Trinamool Congress, are supporting the bandh.

The central government, however, is taking no chances. It was written to all state governments asking them to enhance security. In a countrywide advisory, the Union Home Ministry also said state governments and Union Territories must ensure that Covid-19 guidelines are strictly followed.

The states and UTs were told that peace and tranquility must be maintained during the bandh and precautionary measures taken so that no untoward incident takes place anywhere, a home ministry official said on Monday.

Although talks between the government and protesting farmers have been inconclusive with another round due on Wednesday, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has gone on a publicity blitz to illustrate that low procurement by government (one of the central fears of farmers) was a figment of the Opposition’s imagination. Union Telecom Minister Ravishankar Prasad tore into arguments about the government’s “disregard” for farmers, charging that procurement by government had never been higher than now.

Sources in the government said with political parties joining in, the movement is slipping out of farm leaders’ hands, which is getting reflected in their changing demands. “While earlier farmers were demanding assurance on MSP (minimum support price) and guaranteed procurement, now they are asking for complete repeal of the Acts,” a senior official said.

“Until the 2019 elections, it was the declared policy of the Congress party and several others that liberalisation of agriculture was foremost for the welfare of farmers, but post 2019 everything changed,” the official said.

However, farmers have shown no signs of budging from their fundamental demand: The repeal of the new farm laws and written guarantees on MSP.

Tuesday’s protest is expected to hit the supply of fruit and vegetables to the markets in Delhi and to the rest of the country. Traders in the Azadpur mandi are supporting the strike.

In Maharashtra, the Vashi Agricul­tural Produce Market Committee would be shut in solidarity. It is likely to affect supply of fruits and vegetables in Mumbai. There is no confirmation on whether other mandis will be closed.
In Uttar Pradesh, police took Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav into custody after party workers led by him broke through a security cordon to sit on a dharna in the heart of the city to oppose the farm Acts.

Yadav was detained for violating section 144 of the CrPC which prevents assembly of five or more people.

In a related development, some sportsmen from Punjab were prevented by the police from marching to the Rashtrapati Bhavan to return their national awards in solidarity with the agitating farmers.     
Kartar Singh, presented the Arjuna award in 1982 and Padma Shri in 1987, Olympic gold-winning former hockey player Gurmail Singh and former wom­e­n’s hockey captain Rajbir Kaur were am­ong those told to return. While Gurmail is a 2014 Dhyanchand awardee, Rajbir was bestowed the Arjuna Award in 1984. “The farmers have always supported us. We felt bad when we saw that our farmer brothers were lathi charged, roads were closed. Farmers are sitting on streets in bitter cold for their rights,” said Kartar.

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