New Delhi: The Minimum Support Price (MSP) for farm produce was never part of any agricultural laws and farmers’ suspicion about the government doing away with the MSP system is unfounded, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said.
In an exclusive interview to ThePrint, Tomar said the provision of MSP was always part of the government’s administrative decision as “everything can’t be written in the law”. He said the government is sensitive to the farmers’ demands and will discuss ways to address all their concerns.
The minister also said he doesn’t view the protesting farmers as Khalistan supporters. “Mere nazar mein sab farmers hai (In my eyes, they are all farmers)”.
The three farm laws, passed in September, have been pitched by the Modi government as long-due reforms meant to empower farmers. However, they have landed in a row over concerns about the absence of a provision for MSP — the minimum support price set by the government for produce — in the laws. The government, however, maintained the MSP system will continue.
Farmers from Punjab and Haryana have been camping at the Delhi-Haryana border for the past one week, and one of their major demands is that the MSP be made a legal provision to assure a better price for their produce.
The fourth round of talks between the government and the farmers is currently under way in Delhi to resolve the deadlock. Tomar is part of the meeting.
In the interview, the minister told ThePrint: “We are meeting the farmers with an open heart to sort out things. It’s not an ego issue for us, we can brainstorm on what can be done to satisfy them.”
“Soon after the farmers announced their agitations, we have held meetings with them in October, then on 13 November. We are hopeful that farmers will understand our viewpoint and the government will be able to resolve their concerns. The prime minister is continuously working for the welfare of the farmers. What the opposition has done for the farmers in the last 70 years, everyone knows,” Tomar said.
MSP was never part of laws, still open for talks
Tomar told ThePrint there was no question of abolishing the MSP.
“The prime minister’s resolve is to create employment in agriculture and make agriculture profitable. The laws were passed to achieve these goals. The Congress is saying MSP should be made part of the law, why didn’t they do it in their 10-year UPA rule?”
“Tell me one thing, if the prime minister and our government had to dilute the MSP, then why did the PM give a 50 per cent bonus on MSP (in 2014)? This was one of the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission report. We have also added pulses in MSP in addition to wheat and rice. There was 25 per cent more purchase of paddy at MSP in Punjab,” he added.
Tomar sought to compare the UPA regime with the Modi government over the purchase of paddy.
“In the last five years of Congress rule, Rs 2 lakh crore worth paddy was purchased at MSP, but we have purchased Rs 5 lakh crore worth paddy in the last five years at MSP. They (UPA govt) have purchased wheat worth Rs 1.5 lakh crore in the last five years at MSP, while we have purchased wheat worth Rs 3 lakh crore. So where is the question of abolishing the MSP?”
Tomar said the PM has on the floor of the House announced that MSP will continue. “So there should not be any confusion over it, everything can’t be written in the law, many things are part of the government’s administrative decision. But we are meeting (with the farmers) and taking their suggestions to allay their apprehensions.”
He added: “There are many ways to address their apprehensions on MSP. Deliberations will be done to find a solution, after all they are our brothers.”
‘Protesting farmers are not pro-Khalistan’
Several BJP leaders have labelled the farmers protesting against the farm laws as Khalistan supporters. BJP IT cell in-charge Amit Malviya has alleged that the Khalistani agenda is being propagated under the garb of the Punjab farmers’ agitation.
On this, Tomar told ThePrint: “In my view, all are farmers — whether small or big, and they have apprehension about the laws and they are raising their apprehensions.”
He added: “It’s the Government of India’s duty to address their apprehensions. We are meeting them continuously and we are hopeful that a solution will emerge from dialogue. We don’t want farmers to spend their night in the open and suffer in harsh winters amid Covid. We want early resolution of the deadlock.”
‘Mandi system will stay, but farming should be competitive’
Asked about the apprehension of the farmers that the mandi system will eventually be dismantled, Tomar said mandis are here to stay and they are focusing on their modernisation.
“We have only made the provision for a more competitive price mechanism for farmers in the law. Why should farmers have to pay extra tax to sell their produce through mandis? We are spending more money on mandis so that they can work more efficiently.”
He added: “This is only a misinformation campaign that the government is abolishing the mandi system. We are rather giving more options to farmers to sell their produce at a competitive price.”
‘Wrong to say laws passed in haste’
Asked about the opposition’s allegation that the farm laws were passed in haste, Tomar said it’s wrong to say that as consultations over agricultural reforms have been going on since the time BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the prime minister of India.
“Swaminathan Commission was formed in 2003. The panel made very good recommendations, and the National Commission on Farmers was set up. (Former PM) Manmohan Singh during his regime tried to initiate the reforms, but he was not able to do so,” he said.
“After our prime minister took over, he has initiated reforms, whose only motive is to increase the income of the farmers. How can agriculture survive when it is not sustainable? Farmers invest but due to middlemen and various other factors, they don’t get the input cost, so how can this system run?” Tomar asked.
Listing the Modi government’s efforts to help the farmers, Tomar said: “We have allocated Rs 1 lakh crore for agriculture infrastructure, warehouse, cold storage. We have announced the formation of 10,000 FPO (Farmers Producer Organisation) to create more agri entrepreneurs, we have made the provisions to get cheap credit to FPO members, which will create a huge impact in the next five years. Farmers will be able to select their crops, they can market it in more aggressive ways.”
He added: “This will change the whole agriculture ecosystem, but if farmers have any objections and reservations, the government is ready to address them.”