As farmers in Punjab and Haryana launch a series of massive protests against the farm Bills cleared by the Parliament that also saw Harsimrat Kaur Badal — the sole representative of the Shiromani Akali Dal at Centre — resigning as the Union minister putting a question mark on future of SAD-BJP alliance, renowned agricultural economist Sardara Singh Johl (93) tells DIVYA GOYAL how things shouldn’t have reached this flashpoint had the government listened to farmers. The Padma Bhushan awardee who is currently the chancellor of Central University of Punjab, also tells if government is legally bound to pay MSP for announced crops. Excerpts:
What is your opinion on the content of the farm Bills against which farmers are agitating?
It is no longer a question of the content of the Bills now but how democratic values of our country were completely crushed. Firstly, there was no need to hurry to promulgate ordinances. Even if the ordinances were issued, before submitting them as Bills in the Parliament, this period should have been used to invite all stakeholders, mainly farmers and political parties from all states, to discuss the contents and remove their apprehensions. Even then, when the Bills were tabled in the Parliament, they should have been referred to the select committee to examine the issues threadbare and consult all stakeholders to develop understanding and consensus. The ruling party majority in the Parliament was misused and democratic values of the country have been crushed in a steamrolling manner. On the content, we can have a difference of opinion, which should be respected and reconciled but downgrading the democratic values and system should not be acceptable.
Farmers have announced massive protests in Punjab and Haryana. What is way ahead?
The NDA government led by the BJP failed to listen to the farmers, who should have been taken into confidence. Had they even tried to speak to farmers once and build a consensus, things would not have reached this point. Nowhere in the Bills it is written that minimum support price (MSP) will go, but why were farmers not assured of this before imposing Bills on them? There is still time, the government should call farmers and speak to them, listen to them, make appropriate changes after thorough discussion before the President signs them (the Bills). There’s still time to avoid the situation from turning violent. Farmers should ensure that common people should not suffer and are not inconvenienced because of their protests.
SAD’s Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigned as the Union minister. Your take.
First (SAD chief) Sukhbir Singh Badal remained hellbent on supporting the ordinances and made every possible effort to convince farmers that they are for their betterment. Then his wife (Harsimrat) resigns (from Union Cabinet) saying she is doing it in support of farmers. Do they really have any stand? This is complete political opportunism. I think the couple did not even discuss among themselves and decide what stand they have to take. It was Harsimrat’s political compulsion to show support to farmers and resign. So is the political compulsion now for Captain Amarinder Singh to show he is supporting farmers. There’s no place for logic left here.
The biggest apprehension of farmers is that MSP will go. Your take.
MSP for the crops is the one at which the government is obligated to stand in the market as buyer of last resort. Government is fully responsible and legally bound to buy produce at MSP for the announced crops. It is a promise by the government, to its farmers and if it doesn’t fulfill it, government can also be dragged to court. MSP is announced before sowing starts so that farmers can decide and sow accordingly. But recently farmers had to sell their maize produce at lower rates than MSP. Sometimes government tries to play clever and for the crops it doesn’t want to buy, it announces MSP lower than market rates. Government should have compensated the farmers who sold their maize produce at lower rates. It is the responsibility of the central government. But with the Prime Minister also assuring that MSP will not go, what was needed was to talk to farmers and take them into confidence before imposing Bills in such undemocratic way.
Other apprehension of farmers is that with these Bills, corporates may exploit them.
Corporates and private companies are already working in agriculture sector. Be it is Nestle, Adanis, Reliance… they are already procuring produce from farmers. That’s not anything new. The question is about the motives with which corporates work. There is still time before the President signs the Bills. Government should sit, talk and remove their (farmers’) apprehensions.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines