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SC panel had opined against repeal of farm laws, reveals member

The member Anil Ghanwat, a pro-reform farm leader belonging to the Shetkari Sangathana, said the panel had instead proposed several changes to ‘improve the laws’
Farm leaders associated with the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, a platform that led the massive protests, refused to take part in the panel’s consultations (HT FILE)
Updated on Mar 22, 2022 12:50 AM IST

A committee set up by the Supreme Court last year amid a farmers’ uprising against a set of now-repealed agricultural laws had recommended against scrapping them, a member of the SC panel said, revealing its contents.

The member Anil Ghanwat, a pro-reform farm leader belonging to the Shetkari Sangathana, said the panel had instead proposed several changes to “improve the laws”.

Its key recommendations included scrapping the Essential Commodities Act and abolition of mandi cess in both state-run agricultural markets and the proposed new freer markets.

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The panel said exclusive farmers’ courts should be set up to settle disputes of cultivators. Significantly, it argued for making procurement of farm produce at minimum assured prices (MSP) a “prerogative” of state governments.

“The implication of shifting the responsibility of procurement to states at their own cost would have decimated the MSP procurement system and regulated markets,” Ramandeep Singh Mann, a farm expert who opposed the laws, said.

Ghanwat said he was revealing the contents of the report after writing to the SC thrice to make the report public to “educate farmers”. He told HT there was no “clause of confidentiality” imposed on the committee members.

Farm leaders associated with the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, a platform that led the massive protests, refused to take part in the panel’s consultations, saying they wanted nothing short of repeal.

The SC had put a moratorium on the laws during the protests that lasted 13 months. The Modi government eventually repealed the laws in December 2021.

On January 12, 2021, HT reported that the four-member committee of the SC, which included top economists and farm leaders, were people who mostly advocated market-led economic reforms to boost agriculture, according to their publicly-held positions.

“Now that they have said that they recommended that laws should not be repealed, our stand that the committee members were biased and pro-farm laws has proven to be correct,” said Balbir Singh Rajewal, a leader who opposed the laws.

The discarded farm laws were aimed at easing restrictions on farm trade, allowing traders to stock large quantities of food for future sales and laying down a national framework for contract farming based on written agreements.

Farmers argued the laws would leave them vulnerable to exploitation by big corporations. The government held that the laws were necessary to boost investments in agriculture, which employs half of all Indians.

The panel stated the Essential Commodity Act hampered farmers and traders from profiting from farm trade during spells of price rise. The Act allows the government to increase supplies when food inflation goes up. Ghanwat claimed a majority of farm organisations favoured the laws.

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