Farm laws repealed, farm agitation must end now
Chandigarh The three new agricultural laws enacted in June 2020 have been repealed. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been a true statesman and has shown more grace than ever in apologizing to the nation for the agony many have suffered as a result of continued unrest. He assured farmers and farm workers of their welfare in every way possible.
The farmer’s unrest, however, continues. The agitators are now fighting for the remaining demands, including a statutory MSP. During the eleven rounds of negotiations, the group of nearly 40 farmers’ associations kept changing goalposts, and as a result, the talks were inconclusive. The government has now unilaterally decided to remove the cause of the unrest by withdrawing the laws.
Central agricultural laws were enacted without consulting stakeholders. However, these were suspended by the Supreme Court. Farmers were therefore not penalized. The commotion, however, reflected their apprehensions. Food grains have been purchased by the government from the MSP during the last three harvests. On other farms, business continued as usual without any hindrance. Input supplies remained normal as always. The agitators who remained peaceful were not unduly inconvenienced. Despite the provocations and violent incidents of certain criminals, the government showed restraint and did not intervene.
The repeal of central laws a bad precedent
The repeal of central laws is a bad precedent. In a complex federal system like ours, central legislation on an issue that is the primary concern of states should have been carefully crafted after consensus among stakeholders. It does take longer, of course, but it is the price we all pay for adhering to democratic values and systems. Most of the central legislations on subjects that are part of the state and competing lists of our constitution were finalized after sustained deliberation. Recent examples are the Right to Education Act 2005 and the National Food Security Act 2013. The country has debated these topics for decades. The continued unrest against the laws, which were defeated, and the loss of lives in violence and even dharnas by farmers was an avoidable tragedy. Untold losses in commerce, business and industry, including the travel and transportation sectors, have caused long-term damage to the economies of the affected areas. There have been huge unrealized job losses. Even infrastructure development and other growth initiatives by governments and private entrepreneurs have been hampered. Farmers are asking for compensation, but the government must also take responsibility for the losses caused to the public treasury, private companies and finance.
In a country vying to achieve an unassailable position in the global economy, such a situation is incomprehensible. Both parties involved in the dispute must rethink and find an amicable solution. The recurring losses for the people must end. Some people may have an interest in continuing the agitation, but society no longer appreciates it. The commotion must end now.
Set up a tripartitepanel
For the well-being of our next generations, reforms must happen and they must happen quickly. Farmers are not against reforms, but they want to be part of the reform process. However, the responsibility lies with the government. He should consider all possible options. Continuation of existing purchases of wheat and paddy based on the MSP through a sustainable legal framework; and near purchases of other food crops by central agencies should help allay farmers about their misgivings. A tripartite committee of central government, states and farmers can look into these issues.
The committee should not only address the remaining issues, but also reframe mutually acceptable laws with a clear roadmap for the future. The repealed legislation was well drafted, but the concerns of farmers, which reflect their social and economic security, are not negligible. The political economy of laws, hitherto ignored, should be deliberate in a holistic way to bring something more innovative and user-friendly to the country’s code.
Agricultural diversification plan required
Along with legislative reforms, the government may also consider a Comprehensive Agricultural Diversification Program (PCA) to inject substantial investments with the aim of making agriculture more diversified and sustainable. CADP can cover the original areas of the Green Revolution, Punjab, Haryana and western UP, to promote alternative crops and develop agriculture and related sectors to increase farmers’ incomes. Funds should be provided to states on the basis of their contextual requirements based on data and evidence. An expert committee empowered under the Niti Aayog can oversee the implementation of the PCA.
Program components may include: Differentiated incentives for inputs for alternative crops such as maize, millet, cotton, fruits and vegetables, etc. cash credit limit for the purchase of alternative crops in order to enable States in this regard to have the necessary financial resources and the development of diversification infrastructure such as cold stores, ripening rooms and assembly centers, on-farm storage and distribution.
Regulate crop production
The government could consider establishing a statutory mechanism to regulate agricultural production. It will ensure that the requirements of national food security are met, by fully responding to concerns for the conservation of natural resources, biodiversity and climate change. There is no reason to allow a water hungry state like Rajasthan to produce energy intensive rice. Farmer capacity building and second generation extension reforms are also expected to receive a big boost to promote alternative crops and connect farmers to new markets.
The writer is a former Principal Secretary to the Chief Minister of the Punjab. Opinions expressed are personal