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PM Modi chose party interests in UP and Punjab over farmers, says SC panel member on repeal

Shetkari Sanghatana president Anil J. Ghanwat called the move ‘unfortunate’, adding that the government has closed the doors on agricultural reforms.

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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to repeal the three farm laws is a “political” gambit to “influence” assembly election outcomes in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, one of the three members on the Supreme Court-appointed panel that was set up to examine the legislations has said.

Speaking to ThePrint, panel member Anil J. Ghanwat called the move “unfortunate”, adding that it will damage the reform process in the agriculture sector. He said farmers’ interests have been sacrificed in favour of political interests.

“It is very unfortunate that the government has not taken any other route to convince farmers, but decided keeping in mind the assembly elections,” said Ghanwat. “At the peak of the agitation, the government didn’t succumb, but now it has gone down on its knees. This political move will not help the BJP in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.”

Ghanwat is the president of Maharashtra-based farmers’ body Shetkari Sanghatana, which supported the farm laws after they were passed in September last year.

“Our panel submitted several corrections and suggestions. But instead of using it to resolve the impasse, the government chose to backtrack to win elections. But it will not help anymore. I think the government has not even read our suggestions,” he said.

The SC-appointed panel submitted its recommendations to the apex court on 19 March. However, the report is yet to be made public. Ghanwat has threatened to release the report if it isn’t made public.

According to sources, the main recommendations in the report are creation of specific farmers’ courts, dispute resolution via judicial members, and dilution or abolishment of the Essential Commodities Act.

One of the most vocal members of the panel, Ghanwat added that the government has “closed the doors” on all types of agricultural reforms. “Farmers’ interests have been sacrificed over party and political interests,” he added.

Ghanwat noted that the three laws allowed agricultural produce marketing for the first time. However, now, limitations like export ban and stock restrictions will be implemented to keep the farm produce rates on the lower side — as used to happen earlier. He also highlighted that some of the states have already implemented these reforms. For instance, 21 states now allow selling of agricultural produce outside the APMCs. Agriculture is also a state subject.

However, Ashok Gulati, another member on the panel and a professor at Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, told ThePrint that it is up to the government to roll back the laws.

“We have submitted our report. It is good for farmers if it is rolled back,” he said.

Also read: If farm laws are repealed, no govt will try to bring in any reforms, SC panel member says

What PM said

On Friday morning, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the three contentious farm laws will be repealed in the Winter Session of Parliament, which is set to begin on 29 November.

“Today, I apologise if some farmers did not understand our pure intention and what we wanted to do through the farm laws. We have decided to repeal the three farm laws,” he said. 

“…such a sacred thing (the reform), absolutely pure, which is of farmers’ interest, we could not explain to some farmers despite our efforts. Agricultural economists, scientists, progressive farmers also tried their best to make them understand the importance of agricultural laws,” said the PM.

Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020 were the three laws introduced in September last year.

Also read: Protests, failed talks, violence, deaths — timeline of farm laws before Modi govt’s U-turn

What the report to SC says

Sources revealed to ThePrint some of the recommendations made by the SC-appointed panel to resolve the impasse with the farmers.

The laws said that dispute resolution under contract farming would be resolved by an administrative officer. However the panel report called for this to be amended to judicial member. Moreover, it also sought a dedicated farmers’ court for resolution of agricultural issues.

On the farmers’ demand to bring Minimum Support Price (MSP) onto the statute books, the report said any such move would bear significant expenses for the government, which it can’t afford. The report instead advised that states should decide on MSP, since many crops are state-specific.

Another major suggestion was the dilution or abolishment of the Essential Commodities Act, as the government shouldn’t regulate prices of agri products.

A panel member also urged the government to release a white paper on agriculture to reveal how the sector has not been duly compensated over the years.

(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)

Also read: Farm laws repeal will lead to long-term loss for farmers, says RSS-affiliated union BKS


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