Farm law report months away, says member of govt-appointed panel

Farmers trying to cross a police barricade during a protest in Delhi on 8 Feb. Farmers from Punjab and Haryana are planning to march to Delhi on Tuesday. (Photo: HT)
Farmers trying to cross a police barricade during a protest in Delhi on 8 Feb. Farmers from Punjab and Haryana are planning to march to Delhi on Tuesday. (Photo: HT)

Summary

  • Farm laws’ committee on support price, other issues still working to forge a consensus

NEW DELHI : The final report on farm laws by a government-appointed committee will only be ready in a few months, said a member of the panel, as farmers geared up for a protest this week to press long-standing demands over MSP and other farm-related issues.

The member who did not wish to be named said the committee that was constituted two years ago to address farmers’ grievances, including on minimum support prices (MSP), is trying to forge a consensus at the earliest.

Because of the delay, farmers from Punjab and Haryana are planning to march to Delhi on Tuesday.

“We have made a lot of progress since the setting up of the committee, and we need to iron out certain issues. There is a lot of effort going on in extending support to farmers, and many meetings have been held. The issue is very complex. There are many angles and dimensions to it, and the committee must consider everything," said the person quoted above. 

“Not only farmers but also other entities such as consumers, industry, and the inter-secure linkages are involved. When a committee comes out with a report, they must address micro and macro issues," the member said.

“It’s not just MSP. There are various crops, regions and issues involved. There are cereals, perishables, storable, and exportable. You will have to think about small and large farmers, and all must be given weightage, which is going on. We hope to come to a consensus. Most of the terms and concerns have been addressed. It’s one or two issues for which we are having many meetings. So far, we hope to do it at the earliest, maybe in a few months," the member said.

Farmers’ groups, including the Samyukta Kisan Morcha and the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha, have called for a march to press the Central government to address several demands, notably the enactment of a law ensuring MSPs for 23 crops, implementation of the Swaminathan Commission’s report of the National Commission on Farmers, pension for farmers and farm labourers, farm debt waiver, withdrawal of police cases against protesters and justice for victims of the 2021 Lakhimpur Kheri violence in Uttar Pradesh, who included farmers killed in a vehicle-ramming attack.

Farmers met three union cabinet ministers—Piyush Goyal, Arjun Munda and Nityananda Rai—last week, to request a law on MSP and implementation of the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations in the parliament’s budget session.

“Ministers said they would discuss it, but we have told them to do it before the 12th of February. If our demands are not fulfilled by then, we will march in protest from Punjab and Haryana towards Delhi like the previous protest (that ran from 2020 to 2021)," Ramandeep Singh Mann, an independent farm activist, told Mint.

There were mainly three interlinked concerns voiced by farmers during their prolonged protest, which forced the government to repeal three farm laws that had been enacted in 2020. Farmers want to ensure that government procurement and MSPs are continued; that the system of MSP itself is made legally enforceable; and that vulnerable small and marginal farmers are protect against large private players. 

Queries sent to the agriculture and farmers’ welfare ministry and the consumer affairs, food and public distribution ministry remained unanswered at press time.

The panel member said, “Since there is a committee, it’s not one man or the chairman’s view. It’s about every member agreeing on a particular thing. There are many perspectives on how you support farmers. There are so many views in the farmers’ unions itself. It’s almost impossible to make sense of their demands. You will have to distil all the views, bring them to focus and come up with a report. This is not easy. That’s why the government understood that it is a complex issue and hence, they did not give any timeframe for the committee to submit the final report," the committee member said.

“Other than economists, there are farmers, civil servants, practitioners, academicians, and bureaucrats on the committee. They bring various perspectives to the table and the discussions are very forthright and in a very good atmosphere. “

“We are trying to ensure that everything is as per our mandate. There are various issues like how we provide support to farmers, which is the farm in that we extend our support to farmers through price or direct payment, deficiency payment, procurement, insurance, or any other method or a combination of everything," the member added.

Anxiety among the farmers, mainly of Punjab and Haryana, over the continuance of the MSP and procurement has led to the demand for legalizing MSP. This demand is also rooted in the third concern of providing some form of insurance to small and marginal farmers who are more vulnerable to private buyers.

“Making MSP legally enforceable for all 23 crops is complicated. What is the feasibility of this move and its implications, both fiscal and administrative? Are there better alternatives?" an economist and academician who did not want to be named said.

“Making MSP a legal entitlement makes it enforceable in a court of law. There are two ways of ensuring this. The first is through physical procurement and the second is through the deficiency payments system, under which the farmer can sell in the private market, and if the market price is lower than the MSP, the government reimburses the difference," said the economist.

"Although procurement is the first best solution, there are two major constraints—physical storage capacity and administrative capability (governance). Therefore, a combination of public procurement and DPS may need to be adopted to ensure MSP for all crops."

Other economists believe that legalizing MSP has positive implications, It will provide a guaranteed price to farmers beyond the existing 14%, increase their income and thus contribute to the national economy to grow.

“Farmers, like everybody else in society, need a fair income that puts them at par with the other sections of society. What is wrong if farmers are demanding the legalisation of MSP? There is a dire need to do that," said Devinder Sharma, a food and trade policy analyst.

“Yes, there will be implications for the economy, but the implications will be positive. Today, only 14% of farmers get minimum support price which means to date 86% of farmers are dependent on the market. If the market was giving farmers higher prices, do you think farmers are foolish that they should protest? Why will they protest if the market is doing better for them? They would have forgotten about the MSP by now. The point is the market has failed to provide farmers with the right price and enhance farmers’ income. If the remaining 86% of farmers are covered, a huge demand will be created. Once a huge demand is there, imagine the implications for the national economy.

As per my understanding, the country’s economy will bloom. When we hear the Prime Minister’s vision sabka sath sabka vikas, this is the best way to ensure sabka sath sabka vikas. 50% of the population will immediately get a hike in their income, which will make the economy run. Where is the negative impact? It has a positive impact, which the economy cannot see," Sharma added.

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