In his direct address to the farmers of India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday appealed to them “with bowed head and folded hands” to rejoin the dialogue with the Centre on issues relating to the three new agrarian laws. Modi explained how the three farm laws were on the anvil since the last 20 years with the setting up of National Commission on Farmers headed by the ‘father of Indian Green Revolution’ Dr. M. S. Swaminathan.
The Prime Minister said, all these three new laws were not framed overnight and every state government and the Centre had discussed and approved these drafts. He blamed the Congress “for sitting on Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations for eight long years”. Modi said, ”now suddenly a web of doubts and lies is being spun for the farmers in order to serve political interests. The opposition parties are using the shoulders of farmers to attack the government”.
The Prime Minister explained in detail, why the Centre would not discontinue minimum support prices for crops and will not disband mandis (agriculture produce marketing committees). He sought to dispel all doubts raised by farm leaders on MSPs, APMCs, contract farming and fears about corporates taking over land from farmers. Modi presented the track record of his government in giving the highest minimum support prices to farmers till now. He pleaded with the opposition not to spread lies and confusion among the farmers, and said he was willing to forego the credit of bringing in these agricultural reforms which were long overdue.
Modi explained how the Congress and other opposition parties were themselves planning to bring these laws in the past, but did not have the courage to implement them. These parties (he was indirectly referring to the Congress) had included these promises in their election manifesto and have now made a complete U-turn.
I remember, when Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister, a group of agricultural experts had given its report in 2001 suggesting dismantling of laws that have kept the farm sector in their grip. In 2002, an inter-ministerial task force was set up to study this report and the next year a draft farm bill was circulated among the states by the Centre. The main point in this draft related to opening up of the farm sector for corporates.
In 2004, when Dr Manmohan Singh was the PM, this draft bill was again discussed with the states by the then Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar. In 2007, during UPA rule, model APMC rules were published in order to remove monopoly of the APMCs. In 2010, Pawar, as Agriculture Minister, had written to the state chief ministers for change in farm laws and opening of the sector for private companies.
Clearly, the Congress and other opposition parties are misleading the farmers by alleging that the three new farm laws have been brought and passed in haste. It was in this context that Modi, on Friday, told the farmers to listen to facts and not yield to lies and deceit being propagated by opposition parties.
The Prime Minister alleged that the opposition was more interested in gaining political advantage instead of addressing the real grievances of the farmers. He also alleged that the previous government had thrown the Swaminathan Commission report into the dustbin, whereas his government is firm in its resolve to double the income of farmers by 2022 and offer them procurement prices at one and a half times the actual costs incurred.
Dr M S Swaminathan was appointed chairman of National Commission on Farmers in 2004. Two years later, the NCF submitted its report which recommended that the MSP must be one and half times the actual costs incurred by farmers on their crops. The Congress-led UPA government put the report in cold storage. Modi said, it was his government which acted on Swaminathan Commission’s report and raised the MSPs to one and a half times the actual costs incurred. On Friday, Modi again promised that his government would not discontinue the MSPs.
The farmer leaders must know that procurement of pulses during Dr Manmohan Singh’s UPA government was only Rs 645 crores from 2009 till 2014, whereas Modi government during its first stint from 2014 to 2019 procured Rs 49,000 crore worth pulses from farmers. Facts cannot lie and these fly in the face of Congress leaders who claim to be upholding farmers’ rights.
Modi replied to the opposition’s charge that with the entry of private players, the APMCs set up by the government would become defunct. He said that the mandis would be modernized in the coming years and Rs 500 crores have been allocated in the budget for this purpose. He also refuted the opposition’s charge that farmers would lose their lands if private players entered into contract farming. The law, he said, clearly stipulates that the farm land cannot be taken over, nor leased by private parties. On the other hand, private parties can be penalized if they broke the contract, whereas farmers have been given liberty to walk out of contract if they feel that they will incur losses.
The contract farming project in Punjab, which Modi referred to in his speech, relates to Varun Breweries, a partner of multinational company Pepsico, which set up a plant in Pathankot by investing Rs 800 crores. This plant manufactures juice, dairy products, carbonated breweries and bottled mineral water. Punjab Chief Minister Capt Amrinder Singh had inaugurated this plant which provides employment to several thousand people. The land to the plant was allotted by Punjab Small Industries and Export Corporation. The same Capt Amrinder Singh, who was describing this plant as a blessing for farmers, is today opposing the idea of contract farming by describing it as “a hangman’s noose”. What a dichotomy!
Contract farming began in India almost 20 years ago, whereas the new law came into force only six months ago. There has not been a single case of any corporate taking over the ownership of any farmer’s land.
In Aligarh, nearly 1,300 farmers entered into a contract with a rice company to grow paddy. Today their earnings have increased by 15-20 per cent. In northern Gujarat, nearly 2,500 farmers growing potatoes entered into a contract with HyFun food processing company. Today the earnings of each farmer has increased by Rs 40,000 per acre. Similarly, in Punjab, Haryana and western UP, more than 2,000 farmers have entered into contract with Technico Agri Science Ltd for growing potatoes. Today their earnings have increased by 35 per cent. But opposition parties are scaring the farmers by saying if the corporates do not pay the farmers their dues, what will happen?
I raised this question with Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. This senior BJP leader, who has transformed the face of farming in his state, agreed that there could be cases where companies may have refused to pay dues to farmers, but there are strong legal provisions. He cited the example of a company in Piparia that entered into a contract with farmers to buy paddy at Rs 3000 per quintal. The company did not buy the paddy crop. Under the new law on contract farming, the farmers complained to the local SDM, and the company was forced to pay Rs 3000 per quintal to the aggrieved farmers. He said, in Jabalpur, a company bought foodgrains from farmers without entering into any formal contract. The company had to pay Rs 25,000 fine.
I believe that when the government at the highest level is ready to address each and every grievance of the agitating farmers, there is no point in sticking to an adamant attitude and demand that the laws be repealed. The government’s motive should not be questioned.
On Friday, most of the farmer leaders rejected the PM’s offer and demanded that the three new laws be withdrawn first. These leaders said that the PM was not addressing them and that he was only addressing the farmers of Madhya Pradesh. I disagree. The PM’s address was being telecast across the nation and his appeal was particularly addressed to the farmers who are sitting on dharna on the borders of Delhi.
I have cross-checked each and every fact that the PM narrated with all available records. Modi was right when he said that the previous UPA government did not implement Swaminathan Commission’s report. And what did Modi government do?
His government did follow up action on Swaminathan report, distributed Kisan Credit Cards, disbursed farm loans at nominal interest rate and ensured that the procurement be done directly from the farmers’ fields. As per Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations, Modi government allowed entry of private players in agriculture infrastructure development, started crop insurance for farmers, and assistance in case of accidents. Modi government implemented most of the recommendations mentioned in Swaminathan report.
I want to clearly say that all these measures were taken by Modi government in the best interest of the farmers. I would now like to pose a question to opposition and farmer leaders. They accept Dr Swaminathan as an eminent person who always believed in the welfare of farmers. The same Dr Swaminathan had said in 2007 that the measures taken by the then chief minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, for the welfare of farmers, must be accepted as a model by other state governments. Dr Swaminathan had said that other states must follow the Gujarat model if they want their farmers to become prosperous.
It is time that farmer leaders and politicians should accept what Dr Swaminathan had said, and must stop harbouring suspicions about Prime Minister Modi’s intentions. The farmer leaders must stop sulking and rejoin the dialogue to find a peaceful solution to the current impasse.
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