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News: Recently, the Prime Minister in an address to the nation announced that the three controversial farm laws would be withdrawn in the upcoming session of Parliament.
Yet, the farmer groups are pressing for a legal guarantee on minimum support price (MSP) and the withdrawal of the Electricity Amendment Bill.
Since this will not be feasible for the government, middle ground needs to be found.
Why the farm laws are said to be controversial?
Firstly, the farm laws, that have a far-reaching impact on the farmers, were brought through ordinance route without taking the farmers into confidence.
Secondly, under Article 123 of the Constitution, ordinances are made during an emergency situation and when the parliament is not functioning. But the farm laws do not have the kind of urgency which necessitates immediate legislation through the ordinances.
Thirdly, when the Bills were brought to replace the ordinances, it should have been referred to the standing committee on agriculture for a detailed scrutiny. However, they were not consulted.
Why the government cannot accept the farmer demands for the legal guarantee on MSP?
There is no dispute that farmers need to be fairly compensated for their produce. But any form of guaranteed price is not the way forward for a variety of reasons.
Firstly, the benefit of MSP is available only to a limited number of farmers in select few states, and the government is not in a position to procure more than what it is already doing.
Secondly, the present cropping pattern in states such as Punjab and Haryana, which a guaranteed MSP will further encourage, is simply not sustainable. The unabated pumping of groundwater supported by subsidised power has led to irreversible damage to the ecology of these states.
Thirdly, the agriculture sector needs to adjust to the evolving market and demand conditions.
What is the way forward?
Strengthening the committee system: One way of strengthening it is by getting all the important Bills examined by the standing committee. The presiding officers may, in public interest, refer all Bills to the committees with few exceptions.
Leadership of the State government: Reforms should proceed in the agriculture sector because the present situation is flawed. The best way forward, will be to let the state governments take the lead.
Remunerative prices for farmer groups: Can be done by appropriate government interventions. Such as,
Continued public sector procurement.
Compensating farmers for lower realisation.
Encouraging cooperatives or farmer producers to participate in the value chain.
Constantly engaging with farmers to push reforms and improve productivity in the sector.
Source: This post is based on the article Future of farms” published in Business standard & “Go back to committees’ is the farm laws lesson” published in The Hindu on 22nd November 2021.