Green shoots: On political consensus on repealing of farm laws

The Government should build political consensus on plans for reform in farm sector

Updated - December 11, 2021 09:22 am IST

Published - December 11, 2021 12:02 am IST

The repeal of three controversial farm law s by the Narendra Modi government through a parliamentary resolution has defused the conflict over them, but the underlying questions regarding the sector remain unresolved. Farmers who had stayed put at sites around the national capital for a year are now dispersing, but not with much clarity on the road ahead. The defeatism of the Government, and the triumphalism of the farm unions and the Opposition over the repeal of the laws have created a hostile environment for a long-term resolution to the agricultural practices that are economically and environmentally unsustainable . No reform can be possible without building sufficient political support for it, unless unlimited state force is used to suppress the opposition. In this instance, the Government went ahead without adequate consultations and landed in a stalemate with entrenched farming communities. Any aggravation of the situation would have been dangerous for the stability of the country, but what forced the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) into retreat was its immediate political calculations for Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab. But farmers remain ambiguous in their approach to the party. A section of them in western Uttar Pradesh might consider voting for the BJP, but for many, the wounds are still fresh, and they distrust the BJP. In Punjab, the BJP has managed to be a part of the conversation, but the road to any political reward over the repeal appears long at the moment.

Farmers have resolved to review the progress of their agreement with the Government in mid-January. Their key remaining demand is a legal guarantee of minimum support prices for all crops. While the Government has promised that the existing minimum support price regime will not be diluted, the questions on extending its coverage and backing it up legally have been left to a committee constituted by the Prime Minister. The committee includes representatives of farmers too. The Indian agriculture sector requires a balance between national development priorities and market linkages, and ensure long-term economic sustainability for those employed by it. Wider coverage of minimum support prices could encourage farmers in Punjab and Haryana to switch from irrigation intensive, and expensive rice to a diverse crop pattern without compromising on the food staple. Water abundant areas could adopt appropriate crops. To achieve an ecologically appropriate geographical spread of crops, the existing regional disparity in the sector needs to be addressed, by giving more state attention to regions and crops that are now in a shadow. Enhancing agriculture incomes is a shared objective of all political parties, and it is most unfortunate that they are unable to put their heads together to achieve this. The calm achieved by rightly repealing the three laws should be wisely used by the Centre to build a political consensus on the country’s agriculture sector.

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