Two days after the Supreme Court named him as one of the four members of an expert committee, tasked to listen to grievances of farmers opposed to the new agriculture laws and the views of the government, Bhupinder Singh Mann, president of BKU (Mann) and chairman of All India Kisan Coordination Committee recused himself from the court-appointed panel and said “I will always stand with my farmers and Punjab”.
Farmer unions spearheading the protests at the gates of Delhi had rejected the committee, saying its members were in favour of the newly enacted farm laws.
In a statement Thursday, 81-year-old Mann, a former Rajya Sabha member, said he was “thankful to Hon’ble Supreme Court of India for nominating” him to the committee to start a “dialogue with Kisan Unions on the three laws brought in by the central government”.
“As a farmer myself and a Union leader, in view of the prevailing sentiments and apprehensions amongst the farm unions and the public in general, I am ready to sacrifice any position offered or given to me so as to not compromise the interests of Punjab and farmers of the country,” he said.
“I am recusing myself from the committee and I will always stand with my farmers and Punjab,” he said.
Mann decided to opt out even before the committee could hold its first meeting to initiate the consultation process – members were supposed to meet at 4 pm Thursday via virtual mode.
The other members of the committee are Parmod Kumar Joshi, agricultural economist and Director for South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute; Ashok Gulati, agricultural economist and former chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices; and Anil Ghanwat, president, Shetkari Sanghatana.
It was not clear whether Mann had been sounded before being named to the panel – he was not available for comments Thursday after releasing his statement. But Ghanwat told The Indian Express that he did receive a call from the Supreme Court before the announcement of his inclusion in the committee.
Adding to the confusion
The exit of Bhupinder Singh Mann has put a question mark on the consultation process. It remains to be seen if the court names a new member to replace him. What also complicates the process is the outright rejection of the panel by farmer unions.
The committee needs to hold its first sitting within 10 days and submit a report in two months.
News agency PTI quoted Ghanwat saying “the first sitting will have to be held before January 20. It will be held with existing members. Most probably, the meeting will be on January 19 in Pusa campus”.
Farmer unions said it was “good on the part of Mann” that he recused himself from the committee before drawing more criticism.
Haryana BKU president Gurnam Singh Chaduni said: “We don’t accept the committee, so what difference does it make whether or not he leaves the panel. If he leaves, then somebody else may be included in the committee. Let anyone be inducted, we won’t go to the panel.”
The Punjab unit of BKU (Mann) removed Mann from the union and said it had no ties with the AIKCC that he heads.
Baldev Singh Mianpur, president of BKU (Mann) Punjab, said: “We have been very upset with him over his reaction to his appointment (to the committee). He told me that it was a proud moment for him and the panel would work for the welfare of Punjab farmers.”
But the Haryana unit of BKU (Mann) stood behind its leader. State unit president Guni Prakash, a close associate of Mann, told The Indian Express that they backed his stand.
“We are in support of the three farm laws as we are in favour of an open market. The government says there should be ‘one nation-one market’, but we say there should be ‘one world-one market’,” Guni Prakash said.
Mann’s recusal came on the eve of the next round of talks between the Centre and the farmer unions. Confirming that the dialogue process would continue Friday, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told reporters that the government was ready to talk to the farmer unions “with an open mind”.
The deadlock in talks – over the demand for repeal of the three central laws and legal guarantee for MSP – made the Supreme Court, hearing a clutch of petitions relating to the protests, put on hold, until further orders, the implementation of the laws. On Tuesday, it named the four-member committee to suggest — in two months — what changes, if any, were needed after listening to all sides.
Will not resign from the committee: Ghanwat
Anil Ghanwat, president of the Shetkari Sanghatana and another member of the SC-appointed panel, said he will never resign from the committee. “This is a golden opportunity for the country to fix an agricultural policy and all farmers should come together to formulate the same, “he said.
Speaking to The Indian Express over phone, Ghanwat said he wishes to thank the farmers from Punjab and Haryana whose movement built up this momentum. “Prior to this farmers were taken for granted. It’s only now they are being taken seriously,” he said.
He said he will continue to be on the committee till the Supreme Court decides otherwise. (input by Parthasarathi Biswas)