Agri Business

For a breakthrough, Govt could keep APMC Bypass law in abeyance: NCML chief

TV Jayan New Delhi | Updated on December 25, 2020

Siraj Chaudhry, MD and CEO, National Collateral Management Services Limited

Handling the farmers requires a lot more sensitivity, says Siraj Chaudhry

If the government wants the farm protests to end, it may have to deal with the farmers with more sensitivity and keep the controversial APMC Bypass law in abeyance till the time it can win back the trust of the farmers, said Siraj Chaudhry, MD and CEO of National Collateral Management Services Limited (NCML).

Speaking to BusinessLine, Chaudhry said: “Out of three farm laws, whose repeal the farmers have been demanding, two of them — dealing with essential commodities and contract farming — can actually go through without much problem. If one has to use the tennis terminology, the laws were a ‘political’ serve that the government served, it has got a ‘political’ return serve. Now it is about how to end the match or keep playing deuce. You need a tie-breaker of sorts.”

On Essential Commodities Act: It actually doesn’t affect the farmers directly. It is about the trade, about processers and about large-scale processing investment, etc. “There are misconceptions around that, but in my opinion this is a law for the better. It doesn’t harm anyone. The government has created sufficient safeguards to ensure that no one misuses it,” said Chaudhry.

On Contract Farming: “There is nothing much controversial barring certain clauses such as the one on who can settle the disputes. A contract can happen only when there are two willing parties. Nobody is forcing the farmer to get into a contract.

The reality is all the sugar in the country is about contract farming. So, it has an example of a contract farming that has been working, despite all its follies,” the NCML chief said.

Besides, it touches only a small fraction of farmers growing certain horticulture crops, some grains or high-value crops. There too, some facilitations are done in the form of farmers coming together to form cooperatives or the formation of Farmer Producer Organisations. So, it doesn’t by and large affect a large population of farmers.

On APMC: The contentious one is the one about creating alternative mandis and allowing private sector to procure outside the mandis.

“There, the problem is that the farmers are being told that ‘two birds in the bush are better than one in the hand.’ They are obviously thinking that however bad the bird in the hand maybe, I don’t want to touch it. That needs to be understood. What farmers are thinking is that to get the two birds in the bush they have to first give the bird in the hand, which is not necessarily true. This is where the lack of trust comes in,” he said. “I am not saying that everything the farmers are saying or doing is right. But they need to be dealt with certain amount of sensitivity rather than offhandedness. What the government is saying is ‘we have decided what is good for you,’ Chaudhry said.

Chaudhry said farmers and soldiers in the country touch an emotional cord. This cannot be ignored.

“So far most of the landmark decisions of this government were all about finding something that was wrong that needed to be set right. Demonetisation was against black money, GST was for curbing tax evasion, CAA was for correcting a historical wrong, etc. In this case, there is no wrong that needs to be set right.”

Handling the farmers requires a lot more sensitivity. They are not the people who you can label as enemies or anti-nationals or the ones against the government, he said.

On what is the right approach: “Even today, it is not that the private sector is not buying outside the mandis. If you look at the statistics about the mandi fee being paid, more than 50 per cent of it is paid by the Central government to the State governments. The opportunity is in explaining this to the farmers,” he added.

But, the government is now in a situation where it cannot insist that these laws will stay and that the farmers must understand, he said adding: “The correct stand would be the government saying ‘let the first two laws stay and we take back this APMC Bypass law and we go back to the drawing board. It is the same law which is causing certain States to feel hurt about their stakes and so the Centre needs to hold stakeholder consultation more diligently.”

He said the government could have delayed the process and worked on creating a few success stories which could have been demonstrated in this kharif to say that ‘here the farmers were able to sell outside the mandis and they got higher prices and their cost of doing business went down, etc.’

“Now this has become political. This is a such a story the longer it goes the more supporters it would gather. The sympathy is always with the poor guy. Even during the CAA agitation, there was a lot of sympathy building up for the protesters. Of course, there they could find various other angles to discredit that movement. Unfortunately none of those will work here.

“These farmers are not going to go away because they know that they are getting this sympathy. Now, it has become a battle of wills,” Chaudhry said.

Published on December 25, 2020

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