While the Centre is yet to respond to the farmers’ demand on making MSP (minimum support price) based on the comprehensive cost of production (C2+50%) a “legal entitlement of all farmers for all agricultural produce”, records show that over the last two years, the government’s stand on legal guarantee for MSP moved from a “no” to an offer of a “written assurance” on continuing the existing system.
Parliament records show that when DMK MP D Ravikumar sought to know whether the government was considering bringing a legislation on farmers’ “right to sell at MSP”, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told Lok Sabha on July 16, 2019: “No”.
But last year, following protests against the three farm laws, with the farm unions also demanding legal guarantee for MSP, the government offered a written assurance on continuance of MSP.
The MSP system was introduced in 1965 to encourage farmers to grow foodgrains. It was initially declared for paddy and wheat, but later extended to 23 crops, including 7 cereals (paddy, wheat, maize, sorghum, pearl millet, barley and ragi); 5 pulses (gram, tur, moong, urad, lentil); 7 oilseeds (groundnut, rapeseed-mustard, soyabean, seasmum, sunflower, safflower, nigerseed); and 4 commercial crops (copra, sugarcane, cotton and raw jute). However, the government mainly procures paddy and wheat, and less quantity of some other crops.
First, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar clarified in the Lok Sabha, during the monsoon session last year, that the MSP will continue; he reiterated this on several occasions later.
On September 21, 2020, in a statement in the Lok Sabha on “fixing the MSP for 22 agricultural crops”, Tomar said, “sarkaree khareed par MSP jaaree rahegee (The MSP will continue on government procurement).”
Then, on December 5, 2020, in a meeting with 40 representatives of farm unions, Tomar assured that the MSP will “continue in future”. Twelve days later, he wrote a letter to farmers, assuring them that the “MSP continues and will continue… the government is ready to give a written assurance…”
The demand for legal guarantee gained voice during the agitation against the three farm laws. And it increased after Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on November 19, announced the government’s intention to repeal the three farm law.
Two days later, the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), the umbrella body of farm unions protesting against the farm laws, wrote a letter to Modi: “MSP based on the comprehensive cost of production (C2+50%) should be made a legal entitlement of all farmers for all agricultural produce, so that every farmer of the country can be guaranteed at least the MSP announced by the government for their entire crop.”
Meanwhile, the Congress, while extending support to the farmers’ agitation, stopped short of echoing their demand on MSP. The party said what the farmers need is a “guaranteed architecture” for grant of MSP.
In its 2019 poll manifesto, the party had promised “to establish a permanent national commission on agricultural development and planning, consisting of farmers, agricultural scientists and agricultural economists to examine and advise the government on how to make agriculture viable, competitive and remunerative… The commission will subsume the existing Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices and recommend appropriate minimum support prices.”
Asked about the Congress’s position, the party’s communication department head Randeep Surjewala said farmers were not getting the MSP as the government had stopped procuring paddy.
“There is a deliberate design to puncture and demolish the architecture of MSP on the part of the Modi government. This is a revenge seeking exercise against the farmers… This is the reason why farmers are demanding…when they say statutory backing…they are asking for a guaranteed architecture,” he said.
Asked whether the Congress supported the demand for legal backing for MSP, he said: “The Congress believes there has to be a guaranteed architecture for grant of MSP to the farmer. The guaranteed architecture comes with the intent of the government, capacity creation by the government for procurement as also deciding the MSP and dates and duration of procurement.”
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