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Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said that the Opposition, which is currently protesting against the new farm laws, had also thought of bringing improvements to the existing legislation but “lacked courage”.

Addressing a public gathering at Solang near Manali after inaugurating the Atal Tunnel, Modi said that those who opposed the new laws had promoted commission agents and middlemen when they were in power. “Those opposing the laws want to live in the previous century. But the country is eager for change, and the laws are a historic improvement in the farm sector. Even they (the Opposition) thought of this improvement, but lacked the courage to introduce it,” he said.

Modi’s statement seemed to be a veiled dig at the Congress — the BJP has cited the opposition party’s manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls to assert that it had also promised the same laws which the Modi government has enacted to allow farmers to sell their produce outside state-controlled mandis but is now criticising them for political reasons.

The Prime Minister said that thanks to the new farm laws, small and marginal farmers in Himachal Pradesh will now be able to get better prices for their produce. He pointed out that apple growers in Shimla, Kullu and Kinnaur generally sell the fruit for Rs 40-50 per kg while the consumer in Delhi pays Rs 100-150 for the same.

“Where’s the missing amount? Neither the farmer nor the consumer in the city gets it. And as the apple season peaks, prices fall drastically,” he said.

Modi said that fruit and vegetable producers in Himachal will now be free to go directly to other states to sell their products, and can also choose to sell them in the local mandis.

Earlier, addressing the public on the northern side of the Atal Tunnel at Sissu in Lahaul and Spiti district, Modi said farmers from Lahaul will now find it easier to take their produce to Manali via the newly-constructed tunnel, which reduces the distance between the two points by around 45 km and cuts the travel time by several hours. He said the new tunnel will also ensure connectivity during the winter months, when the Rohtang Pass is closed due to snow.

These were his first public rallies in more than six months, since the coronavirus pandemic forced a nationwide lockdown in March. People at both public meetings were seated as per social distancing protocols.

Modi said that Lahaul residents, who are generally cut-off during the winters, will be able to move out for studies, work and health services. The Atal Tunnel will also bring more tourists to the valley, which will generate employment opportunities, he said.

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