Farmers agitations that broke out in Punjab with the passage of 3 farm bills slowly gained momentum with the formation of a 30 party coordination committee and with the support extended by political parties and certain stakeholders. Initially farmers had certain misconceptions which needed clarity or few demands that needed consideration. But the initial engagements of farmer leaders with the Government happened very late and were informal in nature where Government side restricted itself to explaining the benefits while farmers insisted on two demands, written assurance on continuation of MSP and treating MSP as floor price. As no positive signals were coming out, the farmers in Punjab backed by political and business interests decided to intensify the agitation and move the protest sites to Delhi. As I have been involved in coordination with farmers bodies let me list down 10 developments that led to the situation that we face today :
1. No consultation with farmers before or after the Ordinances or before tabling the bills in the House, and until 30 Sept, 2020.
2. The adoption of the route of Ordinances for ordinary business matter and Bills not being referred to select committee for wider consultations.
3. Initial arguments of the BJP spokespersons in the media being too weak that this will help farmers a. sell anywhere b. store any quantities c. decide price themselves. This freedom farmers, in any case, always enjoyed.
4. Government’s wait and watch approach which helped farmers expand the protests constituency into Hindi belt of Green Revolution area of Haryana and Western UP.
5. Use of force in Haryana leading to sympathise generating for the farmers throughout the country and even abroad.
6. First official invitation being sent to disproportionately large number of 29 farmers and of Punjab alone. And meeting with farmers on a subject that needed political view without any Minister being present in the meeting.
7. As protests site shifted to Delhi the same gained massive media focus nationally and globally, sending jitters to Government which then upscaled the meeting to a group of 3 ministers led by the Agriculture Minister.
8. The composition of meeting being disproportionate representation of one side and non inclusion of those farmers voices which take balanced view or supported these bills.
9. Lack of effective articulation in the media by the ruling party spokespersons about-the benefits that these legislations promise for small farmers, FPOs and Agri Startups.
10. In the meetings at Vigyan Bhawan the lack of broad representation of the other key stakeholders, such as FPOs, Startups, trade, industry, states and even farmers leaders from other movements and from other parts of the country, which made the scope narrow and created deadlock.
The Government, now has limited options to respond to the situation and amicably resolve the crisis. But broad basing the discussions to include other key stakeholders, involving state governments in consultation, accepting one or both key demands, making MSP floor price and passing on the states on same formula as SAP for sugarcane, formation of agri reforms commission, suspending the legislation for six months to buy more time could be the solutions. Scrapping these Acts and converting them into Model Acts for States to adopt could be last option. But this will not be progressing step for the farmers themselves, as we know how important market reforms are for unleashing the potential of farm sector for the benefits of farmers. And all the experts and expert committees constituted during the last 25 years are unequivocal in their recommendations for the wide spread market reforms.
Views expressed here are those of Dr. MJ Khan, Chairman and Founder of Indian Chamber of Food and Agriculture