Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar asserts new farm reform laws will free farmers from clutches of mandis but won’t affect APMCs which are a state subject, denies rush in passing the Bills in Parliament, and calls chaos by Opposition in House a taint on democracy. The session was moderated by Assistant Editor Harikishan Sharma.
His ministry has been at the centre of the three farm Bills passed during the Monsoon Session. Despite protests from farmers, and demands by the Opposition and one of its allies to send the Bills to a select committee, the Centre dug in its heels. Since 2014, Tomar has helmed many departments, and now also heads the ministries of Rural Development and Food Processing Industries
NARENDRA SINGH TOMAR:
Over the past five-six years, the Prime Minister has taken several steps to help farmers double their income. In 2009-10, the Agriculture Ministry’s budget was Rs 12,000 crore, and Animal Husbandry and Fisheries was a department in the ministry. Today, while they are separate departments, we alone have a budget of Rs 1,34,000 crore for the Agriculture Ministry. The MSP has been increased, an infrastructure fund has been instituted. The three Bills — Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020; The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020; and, The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 — have been passed by Parliament. It is a revolutionary change, and when such changes happen, there is always some opposition. But the current opposition is politically motivated. The Bills will help the farmer, it is for their benefit. The Bills will be instrumental in increasing the earnings of farmers… It will free them from the clutches of the mandis… There are provisions to ensure that the farmer can break away from the agreement when he wants but the processor can’t do so. The processor has to pay the farmer the amount that was agreed upon. So these Bills are meant to protect the farmer, to improve their situation, to ensure that they can use the latest technology, and that they do not face any hurdles while exporting.
There have been attempts to spread rumours about the Bill for political reasons. Farmers are being told that MSP will be abolished. I want to clarify that we had declared the MSP for kharif crops earlier. The crops will be harvested soon and the government will buy it. This is the government’s commitment.
Secondly, we have also recently got the MSP for rabi crops approved by the Cabinet, and I made a statement about it in Lok Sabha as well. There should be no confusion regarding MSP. It is the government’s decision and we have constantly increased the MSP, and the farmer has benefited from it. Earlier, only wheat and paddy were bought. Under PM Modi’s leadership, we also began the purchase of oilseeds and the farmer is benefiting from it.
I also want to clarify that the APMCs will not get affected by it. They have been set up under state laws and they will continue to operate. Outside the APMC premises, the farmer will have the option of selling their produce and there will be no tax on it, either by the Centre or state. So this will definitely give the farmers more freedom and in the coming days, from the point of view of agricultural production, productivity, earnings, increasing GDP of agriculture, this move will be helpful and improve the lives of our farmers.
HARIKISHAN SHARMA: You are saying the new laws are in favour of farmers, but the farmers have many apprehensions. Why was there a rush to pass the Bills in the middle of a pandemic?
The proceedings of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha are broadcast live. In Lok Sabha, there was a four-hour-long discussion on the Bills before they were passed. When the Bills came to Rajya Sabha, discussions were held for four hours again and all parties expressed their views on it. When the discussion ended in Rajya Sabha, I was called to give a response. Within 10 minutes of that, there was chaos. What happened in the Rajya Sabha is a taint on democracy.
But it is absolutely wrong to say that we were in some kind of rush to get these Bills passed or that we got it passed through the force of our numbers in the House. If you look at the details of the discussions, no Opposition leader has raised any specific objection. Their speeches were only political and were meant to mislead the country. They are going against what they mentioned in their own manifesto. The Opposition is not listening to agriculture scholars either… I want to clarify that the government was in no rush to pass these Bills.
Second, if any reform has to be introduced, then the government must do so with courage. The country has voted for PM Modi to ensure development. Because of that mandate, it is the Prime Minister’s responsibility to ensure that reforms that have been stuck for years, because of which the farmer was being exploited… If the reform is introduced now, the farmers will benefit now. If it is done after a year, the benefits will come after a year. It is the Prime Minister’s commitment that if any decision has to be taken for the good of the country, then it is the government’s responsibility to take the decision without caring about votes. Earlier too, such decisions have been taken and will continue to be taken in the future too. I am confident that agriculture and farmers both will benefit from the legislation.
LIZ MATHEW: During discussions on the farm Bills, it was not just the Opposition but even parties that are considered friendly to the BJP, like the BJD, who suggested that the Bills be sent to the select committee. The Akali Dal said that there is an issue of perception and it must be tackled. Why did you not consider their suggestions?
It is true that many people suggested that the Bills be sent to the select committee. Ordinarily, Bills that are very long and complicated are the ones that are sent to select committees. These (farm) Bills are very small and their provisions are very clear. There was no need to send them to the select committee.
The only thing that we are changing is that there will be no tax on the trade that happens outside the APMC. The farmer should get the freedom to do that trade. If you look at any industry, they have the freedom to decide the cost of their product, who they want to sell to… Till now, the farmer did not have this freedom, to decide the price of their crops, to sell to a buyer of their choice. This had also led to corruption. We have allowed trade outside APMC without tax. This will allow for inter-state trade, private investment will reach villages, there will be electronic platforms which will provide jobs and will also lead to transparency.
We are saying in the Bill that at the time of sowing itself, the agreement on price will be done, and this will ensure that the farmer will be willing to take a chance with any crop. Today, many farmers want to do organic farming, but they don’t have a market to sell their produce. Through these Bills, the people in the market will reach the villages. If there were objections to specific provisions, or if someone’s rights were being snatched, then the select committee would have discussed the issues. But there were no such issues and that is why we said that the Bills need not be sent to the select committee… Now if your criticism is not valid, you cannot climb on to the desk of the Deputy Chairman. If the Congress considers this an accomplishment, they will have to suffer the consequences of their action.
HARISH DAMODARAN: You are saying that MSP will not be affected. Why didn’t you mention this specifically in the law?
Through you, I want to tell the people of the Opposition that all of you have been in government for many years, if the law was necessary for the MSP, then why did you not make it?… MSP was not a part of the law even earlier and MSP is not part of the law even today. MSP is an administrative decision of the Government of India and procurement has been taking place as a result of MSP. The Modi government had started declaring MSP by adding 50 per cent profit to the cost… We declared rabi MSP before sowing of crops and the kharif crop is due in a few days, which will be procured on MSP. The Prime Minister has said that the MSP will continue, so why does anyone need to worry? And MSP has nothing to do with these Bills. The Bills deal with trade outside the mandi premises.
The Opposition does not have any specific criticism and that is why they are raising the MSP issue. They are saying that the APMCs will go. How can that happen? The APMCs have been created through state Acts. It is up to state governments to make laws for APMCs… So all I want to tell farmers is that they must guard against misinformation, and they can call or write to me if they want any clarification and I will give them a presentation and assure them.
HARIKISHAN SHARMA: The Centre decides the Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP) for sugarcane and MSP for maize. In Bihar, where the APMCs have been abolished 14 years ago, corporate buyers purchase both sugarcane and maize directly from farmers. What has been seen in the case of sugarcane is that for years the dues of farmers are not paid. In the case of maize, the business was good last year, but this year because of Covid, there were no buyers, despite the produce having an MSP. So, how will you ensure that the dues of the farmers are paid, and paid on time?
Before these Bills also, there was no law to ensure that the farmers will get their dues. The APMC Acts had no such provision. Our Bills have a provision to ensure that the farmer is paid within three days of selling their produce. The moment the produce is delivered, the buyer will have to give the farmer a receipt, which will ensure that the farmer has proof of sale, and within three days the payment has to be made.
Secondly, this issue is not linked to sugarcane at all. The process to decide the FRP of sugarcane is different and it comes under the Consumer Affairs Ministry. Also, a certain number of farmers are linked to sugarcane factories and they can give their produce only to that factory. So that is a separate issue.
Yes, the price of maize has come down this year. Covid has had an impact on the business. Maize was used a lot to feed poultry, and that industry has been hit. We are working constantly to avoid such an imbalance.
PARTHA SARATHI BISWAS: How will you ensure that the farmer is paid within three days? Also, prices of potatoes, onions, tomatoes are increasing. How will the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, ensure that such inflation does not happen and there are no limits on stocks in the future?
There is no doubt about the fact that APMC is a state subject… But it is the Centre’s responsibility to ensure that there is one kind of market for the entire country.
Secondly, we must not underestimate the farmer. When buyers approach the farmer, they will vet the buyer. They will decide on a price, they will choose the trader. It is not like farmers will sell their produce to everyone. They will weigh their options and take a call. If the Act has a provision stating that the farmer will have to be paid in three days, then the payment has to be made in three days. If there is a situation (where payment is not made), we have authorised the Sub-Divisional Magistrate to undertake an investigation and report within a fixed time. The SDM is under the state government… In the courts, the matter will take a long time. The farmer can approach the SDM any time. That is why we have authorised the SDM to examine matters. So all I would say is, let the law get implemented and the farmer will definitely benefit from it.
As far as onions are concerned, there can be shortage of some produce or there can be surplus production. There is a process… Sometimes, prices can increase, whether to allow that, or allow the export of some products… the Commerce Ministry examines these aspects constantly. So they have taken a call this time. But I want to assure everyone that the Central government is closely watching food prices.
MANRAJ GREWAL SHARMA: The Akali Dal has been pointing out that they had presented a note of dissent to the government on the Bills, and that they were told that their concerns, which were primarily linked to the MSP, will be addressed. They have been complaining that the BJP did not pay attention to their concerns despite the fact that the ties between the two parties go back a long way. What is your response?
I believe the issue of farmers should be kept away from politics. The country has spent a long time politicising issues related to farmers. This is 21st century India, and we have a responsibility to take India forward. For that, we have to take agriculture forward. So that is why I want to request leaders of all parties that there should be no politics on agriculture and farmers.
If you look at the Congress manifesto during Lok Sabha elections, or even the manifesto of the Punjab Congress during the Assembly elections, they said they will abolish the APMC Act. They said that they will ensure that purchase outside APMC happens without any tax, that inter-state trade is promoted… Now, either the Congress should say that we are retracting from what we said in our manifesto, and that now we have a different position… We also mentioned these aspects in our manifesto.
When we mentioned revoking of Article 370 in our manifesto, they said the country will burn. But the Prime Minister went ahead and removed Article 370 legally. Similarly, when we said in our manifesto that we will bring reforms in agriculture, we did it. The Bills were passed as per process and these laws will bring a big change in the lives of farmers.
HARIKISHAN SHARMA: The pandemic has forced nearly one crore labourers to return to their villages where MGNREGA is the only source of employment. Many families have completed their 100-day quota and cannot get work under MGNREGA any more. Are you looking at increasing the time period for MGNREGA employment?
When the pandemic struck, employment opportunities were hit in villages. A large number of migrant workers also returned to their villages. Under MGNREGA, a Rs 61,000 crore budget was provided, but given the situation, an additional
Rs 40,000 crore was offered. In the entire year now, Rs 1,01,500 crore will be spent on MGNREGA. Secondly, the Garib Kalyan Rojgar Abhiyaan was also launched to ensure jobs and Rs 50,000 crore was provided for it.
As far as increasing employment days is concerned, no state has written to me about it yet and states have the right to increase the days and bear the cost for it. When a natural calamity strikes or under special circumstances, the Central government takes decisions to provide for an extra 50 days of work, but we don’t have such a proposal now. If it comes to us, we will deliberate over it.
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