Watch our panel of Eminent Persons on Saturday, December 11 as they discuss this key issue
Thousands of farmers who had camped at Delhi’s borders for the past 13 months began returning to their homes in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh on Saturday (December 11) after controversial farm laws were repealed.
Farmers came together and forced the mighty Center to back down and withdraw laws, making it the most successful agricultural turmoil the country has witnessed. The government has also promised to set up a committee to take a call on the minimum support price (MSP) – a basic demand from farmers.
As the protesters return to their towns and villages, perhaps now is a good time to ask the question: Are farmers food for political parties?
The federal government hosted a live webinar on Saturday to discuss the issue. We were joined by: Devinder Sharma, Food and Trade Policy Analyst, Mohali; R Ramakumar, professor, School of Development Studies, Tata Institute of Social Sciences; Ravishankar Mantha, CEO of Agrisk Data Analyst, Mumbai; and Harish Damodaran, journalist, New Delhi.
The discussion was moderated by Federal editor-in-chief, S Srinivasan.
In their opening remarks, the panelists agreed that the country’s agricultural sector needs urgent reforms – but not of the kind the government has proposed.
Devinder Sharma agreed that farmers had indeed been treated like bank fodder over the years. “We praise them before each election, we tell them that their crises will be resolved and that they are promised prosperity. But once the elections are over, they are forgotten, ”he said.
“Look at 2014, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised the MSP 50% more than the cost of production promised by the Swaminathan Committee,” Sharma said.
“Before that, when Parkash Singh Badal was in the electoral arena, he promised free electricity – although the farmers did not ask for it… same pattern we see… [Former chief minister] Amarinder Singh officially promises to erase the loans… ”
Reform does not mean privatization, Sharma said, adding that what the farmers demanded were “real reforms” in the form of income guarantees.
Ramakumar called the three farm laws “unconstitutional” because they were introduced invoking Article 33 of the concurrent list to which entries 26 and 27 of the state list had been linked. He said agriculture is a matter of state. “Entrance 14 [agriculture] is part of the list of states.
Ramakumar said the laws had “no demonstrable benefit” either.
He said farmers are really concerned that the laws will benefit big business and that India is heading down the western world path, where big food companies have driven local farmers out.
Ramakumar said that “the APMC system is extraordinarily useful”, but that it needs reform. He called for more mandis and better infrastructure in those mandis.
Ravishankar Mantha said farmers are the biggest risk takers in the country who need facilitation, not support. Successive measures to support them had “paralyzed their thinking and their entrepreneurial spirit,” he added.
Damodaran said it was precisely the failure of farmers to act as a “vote bank” that led to their neglect. They should vote as farmers, not as Hindus, Muslims or Jats of the Sikhs, he said.
“I would like them to be a vote bank and a lobby. This is the first time that we see them emerging as a lobbying and voting bank.
“One positive thing that emerges is that agricultural issues are now at the center of the scene,” he added.
See the full webinar above.