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Explained Ideas: Here’s how the government should deal with protesting farmers

Bridging the communication gap, according to Ashok Gulati, and winning the farmers’ trust, according to Sukhpal Singh, are the key aspects.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: December 5, 2020 7:14:43 am
Farmers protest, Punjab farmers protest, Govt talks with farmers, Farmer talks, Farm bills 2020, farm bills explainedFarmers protest at the Singhu border on December 1, 2020. (Express Photo: Gajendra Yadav)

Farmers have been protesting against the recently enacted farm laws by converging on Delhi’s highways connected to neighbouring states. The agitation is primarily led by Punjab farmers, although some other groups have also joined. The Indian Express opinion pages carry two pieces where experts write about the ongoing farmer protests.

Ashok Gulati, Infosys Chair professor for agriculture at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), is of the view that there is a gross communication failure on the part of the central government to explain to farmers what these laws are, and how they are intended to benefit them. This communication gap was fully exploited by some political parties and social activists, who themselves are facing an existentialist threat and believe that the Narendra Modi government can do no good for this country.

“A massive misinformation campaign was launched, saying that these laws are a sell-out to corporate houses, will abolish the MSP system, dismantle APMC mandis, and even capture farmers’ lands. Nothing can be further from the truth,” writes Gulati. “Neither do the laws say anything about it, nor is the MSP/APMC system going to disappear with these laws.”

Gulati discusses the various option before the government as it considers the demands of the farmers but more than anything else, he believes the government needs to close the communication gap first.

“Punjab farmer leaders, including two major political parties, demand repeal of these laws. I don’t think that would be in the larger interest of the country’s peasantry, as repealing would mean bringing back controls, licence raj and the resultant rent-seeking. Remember the milk, poultry, fishery, etc. don’t go through the mandi system and their growth rates are 3 to 5 times higher than that of wheat and rice. Overall, almost 90 per cent of the agri-produce is sold to the private sector,” states Gulati.

Also read | Talks with Centre: Wheat sowing over, farmers have free time to continue agitation

Sukhpal Singh, a professor at IIM Ahmedabad, also believes that the government should target winning farmers’ trust. 📣 Express Explained is now on Telegram

“Demand for MSP as a legal right is not well-advised. But farmers’ apprehensions about the role of mandis and terms of procurement under new laws need to be addressed,” states Singh.

“The apprehension about MSP and procurement going away comes from Acts being linked to some previous policy documents like the Shanta Kumar Committee report and the CACP reports suggesting reduced procurement and an end to open-ended procurement from states like Punjab to cut down costs of FCI. It is feared that FCI itself may start procuring directly from the new trade area to cut down buying costs like market fees and arhtiya commission. It is more about the changes in the “social contract” between the state’s farmers and the Union government that is the root cause of this apprehension,” he explains.

Don’t miss from Explained | How the 1.5-times formula for crops MSP is calculated

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