Mumbai: At a time when several farmers are protesting against the Narendra Modi government’s new farm laws, Shetkari Sanghatana, a farmers’ organisation in Maharashtra, is preparing to form a front of all organisations that are in support of these laws.
The Shetkari Sanghatana, founded by economist and agriculturist Sharad Joshi in 1978, has been backing the three contentious farm laws and had earlier even taken to the streets, bursting crackers, to show its support.
“There are many groups like us that are in support of the farm laws. The problem is that the Centre didn’t take farmers into confidence while drafting these laws. Neither did it ask the farmers in support of them, nor those opposing. In fact, more needs to be done than just these three laws,” Anil Ghanwat, president of the group, told ThePrint.
“We are planning to organise all the groups in favour of such liberal changes to farm laws into a loose front. We will try to hold a meeting in the next 15-20 days. We plan to draft a memorandum and submit it to the central government to bring its attention to many other such agricultural laws that need to be changed,” he said.
Of the three laws that several farmers groups and political parties are opposing, the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act seeks to give farmers the freedom to sell outside notified agricultural produce marketing committee (APMC) markets.
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act makes contract farming possible, allowing farmers to enter into agreements with agribusinesses, wholesalers, retailers, processors or exporters to sell at a pre-agreed price.
The third law, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, removes commodities such as cereals, pulses, onion, potato and oilseeds from the essential commodities list, doing away with the stock holding limits on these.
Farm leaders and groups in favour of the laws
Ghanwat said there are some organisations like the Shetkari Sanghatana in states such as Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana that are in support of the new farm laws. Some are either political outfits or politically affiliated, while others are agricultural activist groups.
These include the Kisan Putra Andolan, which works for farmers’ children; Swarna Bharat Paksha, a liberal political outfit; Rayat Kranti Sanghatana, a farmers’ group led by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) affiliate Sadabhau Khot; and Rythu Sangam, a farmers’ movement, among others.
Speaking about the new farm laws, Amar Habib of the Kisan Putra Andolan said, “Jo kiya hai woh bura nahi hai. It’s not bad. There is no reason to celebrate but there is also no reason to oppose the laws. Our criteria of looking at these laws is whether they increase or decrease the liberty of farmers.”
Habib added that the new laws do increase farmers’ liberties, but the Essential Commodities Act needs to be scrapped altogether for the move to be more effective. “But our organisation is in that awkward space where we neither support the current government nor the protesting farmers.”
Sadabhau Khot, who was a junior minister in the former Devendra Fadnavis-led BJP government in Maharashtra, Sunday slammed the farmers’ protests saying it was heading in the wrong direction.
“…among the protesters there are fewer farmers and more people from agriculture committees so the agitation is heading in the wrong direction. The new laws are ultimately going to benefit farmers,” he said, speaking at a gathering of Rayat Kranti Morcha at Mumbai’s Azad Maidan.
Farmers’ leader and former Rajya Sabha MP from Punjab Bhupinder Singh Maan has also supported the laws, but sought some changes.
He wrote to PM Modi on 1 September saying he was “thrilled and happy” when he first heard of the new farm laws, but “the excitement was quick to fizzle out” on reading the fine print. Maan recommended certain changes to the new farm laws, including an ordinance to guarantee that farmers will get a minimum support price and that it will be legally binding on all buyers, whether government or private.
BKU Chief writes to @PMOIndia with suggestions on three agri ordinances
*Demands assured MSP which is legally binding with strong penal action on defaulting buyers
*Demands agriculture to be taken out of 9th Schedule of the Constitution @ANI@htTweets @PTI_News @the_hindu pic.twitter.com/mNxtqXxOdr
— Bhartiya Kisan Union (@BKU_KisanUnion) September 1, 2020
Changal Reddy, chief advisor at the Consortium of Indian Farmers Associations, said, “For decades, everyone wanted reforms in the agricultural sector and today when the Modi government did get reforms, I do not see a reason why there is such a hard opposition to them.”
He added: “In many cases, it is the politics that is coming into play… Similar reforms of market, technology have come to the industrial sector and it has only helped it in the last 30 years.”
Reddy, who also collaborates with Andhra Pradesh’ Rythu Sangam, however, added that it would be difficult to mobilise groups that are in favour of the farm laws. “These are small groups. It is a little difficult to mobilise them on the same scale as anti-farm laws groups,” he said.
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