New Delhi: Bills drafted by farmer bodies seeking an unconditional farm loan waiver and making minimum support price (MSP) announcements legally binding received a boost on Wednesday with major opposition parties pledging their support.

Draft bills prepared by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), a coalition of over 190 farmer organizations, are likely to be introduced as private member bills by Maharashtra lawmaker and farmer leader Raju Shetti in the monsoon session of Parliament.

“For the first time farmers of the country are proposing a legislation and we are glad that almost all political parties in the opposition are supporting our cause," said Swaraj Abhiyan president Yogendra Yadav, who was instrumental in knitting together the AIKSCC.

“The bill aims to make MSP announcements a legal entitlement and we have also proposed a new methodology for calculating costs of production," Yadav said, adding, “the other bill is to ensure a one-time unconditional waiver of all farm loans and setting up a commission with quasi-judicial powers to deal with disaster and distress-related issues."

Among those present at the AIKSCC roundtable were leader of the Congress party in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, Nationalist Congress Party chief and former agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, former Janata Dal (United) leader Sharad Yadav, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader K. Kanimozhi, Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, and J&K National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah.

The meeting comes in the backdrop of close to a year of farmer protests which began in June last year, demanding loan waivers and remunerative crop prices. Consecutive years of record harvest in 2016-17 and 2017-18 led to a sharp fall in wholesale prices of most crops, including pulses and oilseeds, to levels substantially lower than government-announced MSPs.

“We need to study the bills clause by clause and since the opposition is in a majority in the Rajya Sabha, we can pass it there," said Pawar.

“We fully support the bills but all parties and farmer organizations will have to discuss the process of introducing it as the present (Bharatiya Janata Party) government is not willing to hear anything," Kharge said.

“The bills are a path-breaking effort by farmers and my suggestion would be to ensure that the right to sell at MSP be made a fundamental right and anyone who purchases at lower rates should be penalised," said Yechury.

Tabling of the bills and debating the same in Parliament would send a clear message to farmers that a united struggle is on to secure basic rights for them, said an official statement from AIKSCC. “This will go a long way in preventing farmers from committing suicide," the statement added.

At the end of a two-hour consultation on Wednesday it was decided that a joint committee of farmer representatives and political parties will be constituted to fine-tune the bills following which they will be introduced in Parliament.

AIKSCC finalized the draft bills this month following nationwide consultations which began in November last year. The bills are titled “The Farmers’ Freedom From Indebtedness Bill, 2018" and “The Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices For Agricultural Commodities Bill, 2018".

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