Two days after farmer unions rejected concessions offered by the Centre on the new farm laws, Union Minister of Law and Justice Ravi Shankar Prasad appealed to farmers Friday to continue discussions with the government.
“After all, in discussions if they had any point which we thought we need to address, we addressed. On legal points on the dispute resolution mechanism and registration of traders in the Act, we agreed,” Prasad told The Indian Express.
“Our hope is that more and more persuasion will make them (farmers) realise that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and ultimately it is in their interest,” he said.
While he did not specify the modalities of how and when the government will act on the proposal made to the farmers protesting at the borders of Delhi, Prasad underlined that the government’s collective commitment is to “hear the farmers and address their concerns.”
“But we are equally keen that what we have adopted is the right way for their future. Mainly, that they have to be freed from the clutches of the mandis, and they have to be given new opportunities,” he said.
“Nearly 80 per cent of the farmers are small and marginal farmers. Should they not be allowed the benefits of technology? Should they not be allowed the benefits of the new opportunity? Should they not be allowed the discretion to interact with the purchaser of their produce? This is the fundamental issue,” he said.
Asked about the way forward if farmers continue to refuse government concessions and push for repealing the laws, Prasad said “democracy is ultimately dialogue, persuasion and reaching out. And that will be the only way out.”
“The Prime Minister very beautifully put it yesterday in a different context — kuchh kahiye, kuchh suniye. This kahiye suniye (discussion) is going on for last 20 years.”
Referring to the protests in Delhi, he said nobody must be allowed to settle personal political battles through the farmers.
“I am only apprehending that those who have a different agenda, and are facing legal consequences of their separate agenda on issues including sovereignty and integrity of India, are seeking to penetrate there,” he said.
“Let them fight their own battle. The legal process is going on. Farmers’ issue is more important. We have all our sympathy for the farmers,” he said.
Stating that there were consultations before the legislation of the three farm laws, Prasad said, “I can safely say there has been almost a bipartisan consensus for the last close to 20 years about basically three things: liberalise the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee Act; open the trade for farmers; give choice to the farmers and bring in private investment.”
He also referred to statements made in 2011 by then Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar on amending the APMC Act.
“I can tell you that the Planning Commission recommended in 2011 itself that there is a need to amend the APMC Act. As chairman of the Commission, then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was also behind the reforms,” he said.
On the argument of the states that the new farm laws dilute their powers to legislate on agriculture, which is a State subject under the Constitution, Prasad said the laws stood on “sound Constitutional ground”.
“We have legislated under Entry 33 of the Concurrent List under the Constitution which is trade. We have examined this issue,” he said.
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