Two days before it is to table a bill in Parliament to scrap the farm laws, the government issued a note on ‘Objects and Reasons’ for its U-turn over laws that triggered a nearly 15-month protest by tens of thousands of farmers, led to severe criticism of the ruling BJP, and made headlines globally.
The note, released to members of Parliament, blames a group of farmers for standing in the way of “the endeavour to improve the condition of farmers, including small and marginal…”, and says the government “tried hard to sensitise farmers on the importance of the farm laws”.
“Even though only a group of farmers are protesting against these laws, the government has tried to hard to sensitise farmers on the importance of the farm laws and explain the merits through several meetings and other forums,” the note, signed by Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar, said.
It said the laws were “to enable farmers to sell produce at higher prices and benefit from technological improvements… (and get) access to markets to help increase income…”.
The laws, the note said, could have allowed farmers “freedom to sell produce to any buyer at any place of their choice…” and enabled them to engage directly with retailers and bulk buyers (by skipping middlemen at mandis), as well as benefit from “a legal framework for farming contracts”.
“For years, this demand was constantly made by farmers, agricultural experts, agricultural economists, and farmer organisations…,” Mr Tomar wrote in the note.
Sections of the note – specifically the bit about “a small group of farmers” – echoed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement from last week, when he announced the scrapping of the laws.
“Only a section of them (the farmers) was opposing the laws, but we kept trying to educate and inform them,” the Prime Minister had said, expressing his “regret” at not convincing them.
The recall was forced by anger against the BJP – something it can ill-afford with multiple elections due next year, including in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, where farmers’ votes are key.
The ‘farm laws’ refers to a set of three bills passed by Parliament last year amid unprecedented ruckus and chaos, and slammed as “black” laws by protesting farmers and the opposition.
Since then, it has faced unrelenting protests from farmers who argue the push to contract farming will leave them at the mercy of bulk buyers and corporate firms, who could use their financial might to bully them into accepting lower prices.
Protesting farmers also voiced concern over the potential elimination of MSP – the guaranteed price at which the government buys crops like rice and wheat. MSPs are vital safety nets, particularly for small and marginal farmers, against exigencies like drought that could otherwise cost them dearly.
Although the farm laws (in their current format) are to be scrapped, the government has offered no specific reassurance on MSPs, beyond what was said during discussions last year – that it will give a non-binding written guarantee.
Farmers protesting these laws were scheduled to march to Parliament on Monday, but have now deferred that move. They appear to be waiting and watching to see how far the government will go towards meeting their demands, including the key MSP bit.