Updated: January 20, 2021 7:23:10 am
A day ahead of the next round of talks between the Centre and farmer unions opposed to the new agriculture laws, the Supreme Court-appointed committee of experts held its first meeting in New Delhi Tuesday, and its members said they would “try to convince” the protesting farmers while seeking views of other farmer organisations and the government.
Shetkari Sanghatana president Anil Ghanwat, addressing the press along with the two other members of the committee, agricultural economists Parmod Kumar Joshi and Ashok Gulati, said: “Committee members will keep aside their personal ideology on the farm laws while preparing the report to be submitted to the Supreme Court. We have to listen to the agitating farmers and other farmers on what they want. Our duty is to listen to them and place it before the Supreme Court. We are not here to impose our ideology.”
Yet Ghanwat, while responding to questions from reporters, said: “I want to tell the agitating farmers that the laws in place in the country for the last 70 years were not in the interest of the farmers… 4.5 lakh farmers have committed suicide due to this. If the farmer is becoming poor, and burdened with debt, then some changes are needed. When the changes were taking place, this movement (against the laws) started. We too were not entirely in favour of the laws. We also wanted some changes, some corrections. If these (new laws) are repealed, then any party that comes to power in the next 50-60 years will not have the patience to touch these laws, and the farmer will keep dying.”
“The system that looted farmers has been supported by all parties that have come to power so far. They implemented it with great vigour, yet the farmer is dying. If this has to be stopped, then we need some changes, some developments, some reforms,” he said.
Urging the unions to sit across the table, Ghanwat said: “Cooperate with us to bring those reforms, cooperate with the committee, you and we are one. I am a farmer leader. I have often led thousands of farmers from Maharashtra to help the farmers of Punjab. There is no question of enmity… Whether what they have to say is right or wrong, that can be decided by sitting face-to-face. We can be wrong, they can also be wrong. All can sit together and omit the wrong… what is right will be placed before the Supreme Court.”
Within hours of the meeting – three members of the panel met since the fourth member, Bhupinder Singh Mann, president of BKU (Mann) and chairman of All India Kisan Coordination Committee, recused himself from the panel on January 14 — unions opposed to the laws, and camping at the gates of Delhi since November 26, reiterated that they would not appear before the panel.
Jamhuri Kisan Sabha general secretary Kulwant Singh Sandhu said: “We have stated it earlier and we want to say now that members of the committee have been in favour of these laws. They have been writing articles, giving letters of support. So, we will not go to that committee. The laws have been passed by Parliament. The committee is not above Parliament.”
“We are having a bilateral meeting with the government. Why should we talk to a third party?” Sandhu said.
The committee, tasked by the Supreme Court to get the views of all stakeholders, has to submit a report within two months.
“Today, we discussed how the committee will function. As per directions of the Honourable Supreme Court, we have to listen to the (views of) all farmer organisations — those opposing and those supporting the new laws. Not only farmer organisations, but we also have to speak to other stakeholders like farm produce exporters, farm produce traders, millers, ginners, dairy industry and poultry industry… what they have to say about these laws — whether they want some changes or not, or they want the laws repealed.”
“Whatever their statements, we have to listen to them… the committee will submit its report to the Honourable Supreme Court. The Supreme Court will take a decision. Our job is just to listen to (the views of) farmers and stakeholders and to prepare and send a report. We don’t have to do anything beyond that, we don’t want to say anything beyond that,” Ghanwat said.
“The first meeting with farmers will take place at 11 am on (January) 21st. Farmer organisations or stakeholder organisations that want to meet us physically, we will talk to them… For organisations, which cannot come here, we will have a video conference to seek their views,” he said, without naming organisations to be called for the first hearing.
Responding to the statement of unions that they would not appear before the committee since its members were in favour of the laws, Ghanwat said: “The committee has been appointed by the Honourable Supreme Court. Who should be appointed and who should not, that comes under the purview of the Supreme Court. We have been given a responsibility. We will discharge that responsibility efficiently. To those farmers organisations, who are saying that we will not talk to the committee, we want to tell them that we are neither from a party nor from the government, we have been appointed by the Supreme Court. Come and talk to us. We will honestly convey your views to the Supreme Court.”
Gulati said: “At the end of the round, whatever the best views and the collective wisdom of the committee on the farm laws, and the views of the farmers and other stakeholders that need to be collated, will be put in a proper framework and communicated to the Supreme Court. That’s all we have to do, that’s our prime job.”
“If the government wants to speak with us, we welcome it. We will hear the government too. The biggest challenge is to convince the agitating farmers to come and speak with us. We will try our best, we definitely want to speak to them,” Ghanwat said in reply to a query. Joshi too said: “We will try to convince them.”
Responding to another question, Ghanwat said: “We will go to the states and take the views of APMCs there.”
Meanwhile, Buta Singh Burjgill, president of BKU (Dakaunda) said: “We don’t recognise the committee… Whether this committee meets or not, it is immaterial. We don’t think the committee will be impartial.”
Satnam Singh Pannu, president of Kisan Sangharsh Mazdoor Committee, said: “The Samyukta Kisan Morcha had rejected this committee the very first day. Thereafter, one of the members, Bhupinder Singh Mann, also recused himself from the committee. We are not interested in the meetings of this committee as its members have already published articles in favour of these laws. It is a sarkari committee… let them hold as many meetings as they want.”
Rajinder Singh Deep Singhwala, general secretary of Kirti Kisan Union, said: “We have read their views on the farm laws. They are saying they will keep their personal opinions aside, but we don’t trust them. It is a defunct committee as one member has already left.”
Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, general secretary of BKU (Ugrahan), said: “Committees have never yielded results… Let the pro-farm law members meet and decide whatever they want.”
The unions are scheduled to resume discussions with the Centre Wednesday. Last Friday, the Centre suggested that the unions constitute their own informal group which could list expectations and make a proposal that could be discussed.
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