The Friday morning announcement by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of his government’s decision to begin the process to repeal the three contentious farm laws have been generally hailed though some have seen it as a pyrrhic victory having lost several farmer lives.
Describing it as a good step by the Prime Minister and one that was much need, Sukhpal Singh, professor and former chairperson, Centre for Management in Agriculture at the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad, felt the three laws were flawed in their design to begin with besides the process (of little consultation that had happened) before they were enacted. He however, underlined the point that the problems of the agriculture sector cannot be resolved by the repeal of the laws per se because, as he says, “most would agree that we need to do much more in terms of policy and regulation.”
Agri inputs sector
For instance, he sees the need to look closely at the whole governance of the agriculture inputs sector and “the need for a state-level framework that looks at how to open up the sector for investment in order to get the small farmer-based sector going.”
From an inputs perspective, he feels, it is time attention was focused on the long pending seed bill and the pesticides bills which have been hanging fire for almost two decades now.
Incidently, the three laws that have now been repealed were hailed by many in the private sector with some even calling it the 1991 moment for India’s agri-business. The three laws being Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (promotion and facilitation); Farmer (empowerment and protection) agreement of price assurance and farm services; and the Essential Commodities (amendment).
While, Professor Singh feels the repeal with now let the states move ahead with their locally relevant agriculture marketing reforms. But then, he reminds that in fact “some states like Karnataka and Rajasthan have enacted laws that go beyond these three central laws because they have even opened up land markets for anybody. For instance, Karnataka has allowed anybody to get into land ownership and land leasing, including non-farmers. Rajasthan, he says, has liberalized land leasing by passing a land leasing legislation wherein anybody can lease in land for a long length of time. While, these could be seen by some as a move to get more investments into agriculture, it is apparent that the states have been keen to open up the agriculture sector, Professor Singh however does see lot of pros and cons of such as a move.
Referring to some of the provisions of the laws that have been repealed, he said, for instance, the Farmer Produce trade and commerce (promotion and facilitation) law allowed anybody with a PAN-card to buy farmer produce but had no counter-party risk guarantee to protect the farmer interest.
V M Singh, convenor, Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor sangathan, says, the repeal of the three farm laws is a big achievement for the agitating farmers but does feel the repeal by itself is not solving the problem as the need for a solution is still left unattended. “We are back to status quo. If paddy was being sold at 40 per cent less than the minimum support price and now it is the same situation and we back to square one. Had the government instead opted for minimum support guarantee bill (wherein no buyer of the agri produce of any commodity can buy at a price below the minimum support price announced by the government), these three farm laws, which were already on hold, would in any case have become infructuous and we would have moved ahead and got something for the farmers.”