Farm laws repeal is unfair to silent majority farmers: SC appointed panel

BL New Delhi Bureau | | Updated on: Mar 21, 2022

The report made public says more than 3.3 crore gowers supported the reforms

A three-member committee appointed by the Supreme Court to talk to a cross-section of farmers across the country and submit a report on the now-repealed farm reforms law in 2021 had said that any repeal or long suspension of farm laws “would be unfair to the silent majority” who supported the reforms. 

The committee’s report was made public at a press conference here today by its member Anil Ghanwat, President of Swantantra Bharat Party, the political wing of Maharashtra farmers’ organization Shetkari Sanghatana. The committee had submitted its report on March 19, 2021, but the report was not made public, forcing Ghanwat to make it public.

Abolish ECA

The panel, headed by former Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices Chairman Ashok Gulati, recommended abolishing the Essential Commodity Act (ECA). Or, as an alternative, it wanted the Centre to “substantially liberalize its provisions.” 

The committee — in which Pramod Joshi, former south Asia head of International Food Policy Research Institute, was the other member — insisted on revisiting the minimum support price (MSP) and procurement policies. Apex court also nominated Bhupinder Singh Mann of the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh as a member, but he withdrew from the panel. 

While recommending the formation of an Agriculture Marketing Council on the lines of the GST Council- headed by the Minister of Agriculture-, the report said States need to develop models to convert existing agricultural produce marketing committees (APMCs) to revenue-generating entities by making them hubs of agri-business with better marketing facilities. 

Flexibility for States

According to the Committee, with prior approval of the Centre, the States could be allowed some flexibility in the implementation and design of the laws. This would not violate the basic spirit of these laws for promoting effective competition in agricultural markets and creating “one nation, one market”, the report said.   

“There is a perception that given the workload and priorities of the district revenue authorities, due attention and timely disposal may not be feasible. Alternative mechanisms for dispute settlement, via civil courts or arbitration mechanism, may, therefore, be provided to the stakeholders” the report said. When the farm reform laws were introduced, sections of farmers and experts raised concerns over the dispute settlement mechanism.  

Responding to the concerns, the panel mooted the option of setting up “Farmers Courts” at the district level under the Commercial Courts Act, 2015, by the State Governments may be explored to provide an alternative mechanism for dispute settlement, the report recommended.   

The Committee insisted, in the report, that besides freeing the sector from “constraining regulations”, it is imperative that the government takes urgent steps towards strengthening agricultural infrastructure, enabling aggregation, assaying and quality sorting of agricultural produce through cooperatives and Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) and closer interaction between farmers and other stakeholders.

85.7 per cent organisations support 

The report prepared by the three-member Committee said the bilateral interactions of the Committee with the stakeholders demonstrated that only 13.3 per cent of the stakeholders were not in favour of the farm laws. Around 85.7 per cent of the farmer organizations, representing more than 3.3 crore farmers, supported the laws. The feedback received by the Committee through its online portal established that one-third of the respondents did not support the farm laws, and around two-thirds of the respondents were in favour of the laws. The feedback received through e-mails showed that a majority support the farm laws. 

Four Farmers Organizations, representing 51 lakh farmers (13.3 per cent), did not support the Act. Another seven Farmer Organizations, representing 3.6 lakh farmers (1 per cent) supported the Acts with some suggestions for modifications. One Farmer Organization, representing 500 farmers, was not clear on the implications of the Farm Laws, the Committee stated in the report. 

The Supreme Court gave the Committee the mandate to interact with all stakeholders to assess the farm laws. 

The analysis of the Committee recognized that the “ Acts intend to develop competitive agricultural markets, reduce transaction costs, and increase the farmer’s share in the realized price of an agri-produce” 

Agitating farmers stayed away 

The Committee added, “ The agitating farmers’ organizations at the periphery of Delhi did not join the discussions with the Committee despite repeated invites sent to them. The Committee was informed that the organizations were not willing to present before the Committee and preferred bilateral discussions with the government”. 

 However, their concerns, as ascertained from media reports and interactions with Government, have been kept in mind by the Committee, while formulating its recommendations, the report said. 

Formation of Agri Marketing Council  

One of the major recommendations of the Committee is the formation of an Agriculture Marketing Council, under the chairpersonship of the Union Minister of Agriculture, with all States and UTs as members. This Council, in line with the GST Council, would reinforce cooperative efforts to monitor and streamline the implementation of farm laws. 

“ There is a need to create a level-playing field to transactions in existing APMCs and in the ‘trade area’ as defined in the Act, the market fees/cess charged by APMCs, need to be abolished” the report stated.  

Minimum support price

“ The government should consider in favour of completely abolishing the ECA Act, 1955, or take steps to substantially liberalize its provisions” the committee recommended in the report.    

“The MSP and procurement support policy, as was designed for cereals during the Green Revolution time, needs to be revisited. For wheat and rice, there has to be a cap on procurement which is commensurate to the needs of the Public Distribution System (PDS). The savings from this capping on wheat and rice procurement may be utilized to enhance prize stabilization fund for other commodities such as nutri-cereals, pulses, oilseeds and even onion and potatoes on open market principles” the panel stated. 

The Committee suggested an option to give freedom of choice to beneficiaries of PDS to choose cash transfers equivalent to MSP plus 25 per cent for every kg of grain entitlement or get it in kind (wheat or rice).  

A concrete road map for gradual diversification from paddy to more sustainable high-value crops, especially in the Punjab-Haryana belt, needs to be formulated with adequate budgetary resources jointly by the Central Government and the respective State Governments, the report said.  

(With inputs from Radheshyam Jadhav, Pune; and Prabhudatta Mishra, New Delhi)

Published on March 21, 2022
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