NITI Aayog denies RTI request for info on CMs panel on agri reforms

CM’s panel report not in public domain 16 months after its last meeting

January 16, 2021 08:10 pm | Updated January 17, 2021 09:00 am IST - NEW DELHI

Social activist Anjali Bhardwaj. File

Social activist Anjali Bhardwaj. File

NITI Aayog's Committee of Chief Ministers for the Transformation of Indian Agriculture held its last meeting in September 2019. More than a year later, its report has yet to be made public, although its mandate was to suggest structural reforms in agriculture.

A Right to Information request by activist Anjali Bhardwaj, seeking details of the panel’s meetings and report, has now been denied on the grounds that the report is yet to be presented to Niti Aayog’s governing council.

The Centre has cited this panel as proof that Chief Ministerss of key States were consulted on the contentious new farm reform laws, although Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh says the new laws were never proposed in the panel’s meetings.

The committee was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in June 2019 during the fifth meeting of Niti Aayog’s governing council. The panel, headed by then Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, also included his Karnataka, Haryana, Arunachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh counterparts as members, as well as Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar. It was asked to “suggest modalities for adoption and time-bound implementation” by States of two model Acts on agricultural marketing and contract farming, and to suggest amendments to the Essential Commodities Act (ECA), 1955. The panel was given two months to submit a report.

Three meetings were held, in July, August and September 2019, according to the response to Ms. Bhardwaj’s RTI request. The report was also submitted, but NITI Aayog refused to provide it.

“It will be first placed before the 6th Governing Council meeting of NITI Aayog as and when it is held, for appraisal of State Chief Ministers and Governors of UTs who are the constituent members of the Governing Council. Hence, at this stage constrained with the sharing of the report,” said the response, dated January 13.

NITI Aayog also refused to provide the names of those who attended the three meetings, or the copies of the minutes of those meetings, saying such information also constituted part of the report.

The Governing Council has not met since June 2019. In June 2020, the Centre introduced three new ordinances on agricultural marketing, contract farming and amendments to the ECA, and subsequently introduced them as Bills in September. While introducing the ECA Amendment Bill in the Lok Sabha, Minister Raosaheb Danve claimed that it had been discussed by NITI Aayog’s panel, and that the Chief Mpmisters on the panel were on board with bringing it to Parliament. Capt. Singh vehemently denied this, stating that at no point did the panel make any suggestion about bringing these “anti-farmers ordinances”.

“This indicates that the farm ordinances were promulgated and introduced in Parliament without the report of the high-powered committee of Chief Ministers being appraised by the governing council and being available in the public domain,” said Ms. Bhardwaj. She said the denial of information was a violation of the RTI Act. “The lack of transparency in the working of the committee is unfortunate, as the issue of deliberations and consultations on the ordinances and legislations are a matter of great public interest,” she added.

The Agriculture Ministry has already denied Ms. Bhardwaj's RTI request for information on pre-legislative consultations held before the farm laws were enacted, on the grounds that the matter is sub judice.

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