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Ideas Explained: The biggest lesson Govt must learn from the agitation against farm laws

The extraordinary haste with which the farm bills were pushed through both the Houses has created the present crisis, writes Arvind Datar.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: December 30, 2020 2:50:08 pm
Farmers protest, Farmer protests explained, Arvind Datar on farmers' protest, Farm Bills 2020, Farmers Bill 2020Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar speaks during a press conference in New Delhi, Tuesday, December 22, 2020. (AP Photo: Manish Swarup)

There is no end in sight for the ongoing farmer protests. The enormous economic loss and the dislocation of normal life around Delhi could have been wholly avoided if the Bills had not been bulldozed through Parliament, writes Arvind P Datar, a senior advocate.

“The agitation teaches us the importance of following parliamentary procedure not just in letter but in spirit as well,” writes Datar in his opinion piece in The Indian Express.

That is not to say that the latest farm bills are not justified in his view.

“There are strong indications that the new legislation is desirable and will bring in much-needed market reforms in the over-regulated farm sector. As on date, there is no contrary evidence that the new proposals will adversely affect farmers in the long run. There is no justification for a minimum support price regardless of demand and supply. No one would think of assuring a pharmaceutical company a minimum price for essential medicines that it produces, irrespective of whether the quantity produced far exceeds the demand. The benefits of liberalising the non-agricultural sector of the economy in 1991 established that, in the end, market forces cannot be ignored,” he writes.

Legislation that benefits the nation but hurts vested interests will always meet with vehement opposition. It is, therefore, necessary that the benefits of a new law are demonstrated through debate and discussion. There must be empirical or other evidence that shows the deleterious economic consequences of continuing with the status quo.

As the farm bills marked a radical departure from the existing system of selling agricultural produce, the least that could have been done was to refer them to a Select Committee.

Farmers protest, Farmer protests explained, Arvind Datar on farmers' protest, Farm Bills 2020, Farmers Bill 2020 Express Illustration by C R Sasikumar

“Regrettably, the three Bills were passed on a Sunday (September 20) by a voice vote despite a request for an actual vote. The demand by the Opposition for discussion was also turned down,” he points out.

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“The biggest lesson for all ruling parties is that following constitutional conventions always pays dividends — it benefits the nation and preserves the dignity of Parliament. The delay that arises by following parliamentary procedures and constitutional conventions can actually provide the proof that the new law is really the right choice and those opposing it have placed their short-term vested interests ahead of the national interest,” he concludes.

The extraordinary haste with which the farm bills were pushed through both the Houses has created the present crisis, which can only exacerbate the economic woes caused by the pandemic.

As philosopher Karl Popper put it: “Our greatest troubles come from our impatience to better the lot of our fellows.”

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