Why the SC-appointed panel report on farm reform laws was made public

BL New Delhi Bureau | Updated on: Mar 22, 2022
File photo of a press conference by the Supreme Court-appointed farm panel members PK Joshi, Anil Ghanwat and Ashok Gulati

File photo of a press conference by the Supreme Court-appointed farm panel members PK Joshi, Anil Ghanwat and Ashok Gulati

‘It has become a dead letter as apex court showed no interest’

The three-member committee appointed by the Supreme Court to submit a report on the farm reform laws had advised against repealing the laws since it would be “unfair to the silent majority of farmers who supported the reforms”.

The farm laws were repealed by the Parliament following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s announcement in this regard on November 19, 2021, after farmers from parts of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab staged protests on the outskirts of Delhi for over a year from October 2020.

Had it been published...

Over 85 per cent of the farmer organisations, representing over 3.3 crore growers, favoured the reforms, the committee said in the report. Releasing it on Monday at a press conference, Anil Ghanwat, one of the three members of the committee and the president of Swantantra Bharat Party, said the repeal of the farm laws could have been avoided had the Supreme Court published the report, submitted on March 19, 2021.

Pointing out that even two-thirds of respondents online favoured the laws, Ghanwat, who was appointed when he headed Maharashtra’s popular farmers’ organisation, Shetkhari Sanghatana, said he was making the report public as it had educational value for farmers and policymakers alike.

The report has become a “dead letter” and the court had no interest in it, as seen from its lack of response to the three letters sent by him to release the report. Had the report of the committee, which included former Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices chairman Ashok Gulati and former South Asia head of International Food Policy Research Institute Pramod Joshi, been released before the repeal of the laws, farmers would have realised how the new laws increase their income.

The Supreme Court in January 2021 stayed the farm reform laws and appointed the committee, which originally had four members. However, Bharatiya Kisan Sangh representative Bhupinder Singh Mann, the fourth member, withdrew following pressure from agitating farmers. The committee said it had invited the agitating farmers to present their views but they refused to join the discussions despite repeated pleas.

Ghanwat said the committee was unanimous in its recommendations, also reflecting their own opinions expressed through several write-ups over the past few years.  He personally favoured the abolition of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955.

Other recommendations

Other significant recommendations of the committee were setting up an agriculture marketing council headed by the Union Agriculture Minister, giving flexibility to the States in implementing the laws, and formation of “farmers courts” at the district level. It also called for revisiting the minimum support price (MSP) policy and a cap on procurement of wheat and rice commensurate with the needs of the public distribution system.

Ghanwat said farmers’ income would increase by 5-25 per cent if the panel’s recommendations are implemented. He hinted that there is a scope to bring back an amended version of farm laws.

He said the way it was brought in through ordinance and later on, without much debate in Parliament worked against the legislations. He praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi for at least bringing agriculture to the centre of discussions at the national level.

On the relevance of minimum support price (MSP), Ghanwat said “it is not feasible”. Let the States do it if they want. It is there in some of the APMC laws in States where below MSP trade is not allowed inside mandi premises,” he said. Farmers would be the losers if nothing moves after the repeal of the farm laws as reforms are badly required in the farm sector, he said. 

The Swantantra Bharat Party leader said he convinced Gulati and Joshi to recommend that if the stock holding limit was to be imposed in the case of horticultural products, then their prices should increase by 200 per cent. Gulati was for the stock limit if prices increased by 150 per cent. In the now-repealed Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, the Centre stipulated a 100 per cent rise in retail price for a stipulated period to impose the stock limit.

Ghanwat also said he would come out with a discussion paper on agricultural policy next month and seek public feedback before submitting it to the government. He also revived his plan to organise a rally of more than one lakh farmers in October in the national capital to push agricultural reforms.

A group of 20-25 farmer organisations, under the leadership of VM Singh and Raju Shetty, will be meeting in Delhi on Tuesday to discuss their next course of agitation to secure a legal guarantee for MSP.

(With inputs from Radheshyam Jadhav, Pune)

Published on March 21, 2022
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