ON Monday, Anil Ghanwat, President, Shetkari Sanghatana, a farmers’ organization, and a member of the four-member committee constituted by the Supreme Court via an order on January 12, 2021 “for the purpose of listening to the grievances of the farmers relating to the farm laws and the views of the Government and to make recommendations”, put in public domain the report that the committee had prepared and submitted to the Supreme Court last year.
The Supreme Court had, in its order, directed that representatives of all farmers’ bodies, regardless of whether they were participating in the protests against the laws and whether they supported or opposed the laws, were to participate in the Committee’s deliberations and put forth their viewpoints.
These laws were ultimately repealed by the Parliament in December last year, after having been stayed by the Supreme Court.
According to the report, the committee had invited 266 farmer organizations, including the ones protesting at the periphery of Delhi. It ended up interacting with 73 such organizations, which represented 3.83 crore farmers, as per the report.
The report states:
“[O]f these 73 Farmer Organizations, 61 Farmer Organizations, representing 3.3 crore farmers, fully supported the Acts — a majority constituting 85.7 percent of the total farmers. But 4 Farmers Organizations, representing 51 lakh farmers (13.3 percent), did not support the Act. Another 7 Farmer Organizations, representing 3.6 lakh farmers (1 percent) supported the Acts with some suggestions for modifications. 1 Farmer Organization, representing 500 farmers, was not clear on the implications of the Farm Laws.”
The protesting farmers’ groups chose not to participate in these discussions with the committee, and stated that they preferred bilateral dialogue with the union government. The committee claims to have nevertheless been mindful of their concerns, as expressed to the media and the government, while formulating its recommendations.
According to Ghanwat, the report was submitted to the Supreme Court on March 19 last year. He wrote thrice to the Supreme Court requesting the release of the report – on September 1 and on November 23 last year, and on January 17 this year. He has written that even though the report is now “a dead letter” and “the court has no interest in it”, he is publishing it due to its “educational value for farmers and policymakers”.
What does the report say?
According to the report, the farm laws “endeavor to create an ecosystem to facilitate private investments in well-oiled supply chains to cut down logistics, add value and reduce food losses.” They were “intended to align the agricultural policies with the structural requirements of the sector for enhanced access to agricultural markets and incentivize crop diversification”.
The report made the following recommendations:
(i) “A repeal or a long suspension of these Farm Laws would be unfair to the ‘silent’ majority who support the Farm Laws.
(ii) States maybe allowed some flexibility in implementation and design of the Laws, with the prior approval of the Centre, so that the basic spirit of these Laws for promoting effective competition in agricultural markets and creation of ‘one nation, one market’ is not violated.
(iii) Alternative mechanisms for dispute settlement, via Civil courts or arbitration mechanism, may be provided to the stakeholders.
(iv) The Government should take urgent steps towards strengthening agricultural infrastructure; enabling aggregation, assaying and quality sorting of agri produce through cooperatives and Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs), and closer interaction between farmers and warehouses/processors/ exporters/retailers/bulk buyers.
(v) An Agriculture Marketing Council, under the chairpersonship of Union Minister of Agriculture, with all States and UTs as members may be fainted on lines of the GST Council to reinforce cooperative efforts to monitor and streamline the implementation of these Acts.
(vi) A large-scale communication exercise needs to be taken up by the Government to alleviate the apprehensions, doubts, and concerns of rest of stakeholders.”
The committee found that only 42.3 per cent of its respondent farmers sell their produce through Agricultural Produce Market Committee [APMC] mandis, mostly concentrated in Punjab and Haryana, where over 70 per cent of the respondent farmers do so. However, over time, “APMC mandis became prey to oligopolistic structures with high commissions and rent-seeking”.
The majority of agriculture sector transactions take place outside the mandi system, the report discloses.
On the subject of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, the report states that “[w]hen stock limits are imposed, the prices crash even below the cost of production leading to losses to the farmers.” It recommended that the government either abolish the 1955 Act, or “take steps to substantially liberalize its provisions“.
The report is also critical of the protesting farmers’ demand for a legal guarantee of the Minimum Support Price [MSP], describing it as “not based on sound logic and … infeasible to implement”. It notes that “[t]he economic cost of [the Food Corporation of India] for acquiring, storing and distributing foodgrains is about 40 percent more than the procurement price — an addition of around Rs 1200 per quintal for rice and Rs 800 per quintal for wheat!”
It laments that excessive procurement beyond the requirements of the Public Distribution System has, besides leading to the “wasteful locking of precious money”, also led to negative environmental externalities such as the depletion of the precious water resources of North Western India. It recommends that “the MSP and procurement support policy, as was designed for cereals during the Green Revolution time, needs to be revisited given that huge surpluses of wheat and rice have emerged.”