As farmers seek statutory MSP, Union agriculture ministry says 'all issues' concerning support prices are on the table
"We have decided to hold talks with the government on December 29," Tikait told PTI.
The government on Thursday wrote to agitating farmer organsiations, indicating, for the first time, its readiness to discuss providing a legal backing to the minimum support price (MSP). Responding in less than 24 hours to a letter from the unions, where they showed a willingness to engage with the government to resolve the vexatious stand-off and raised the demand for statutory MSP, the agriculture ministry said: “Raising a new demand (statutory MSP) and its inclusion in the talks does not look logical. Still, the government is ready to discuss all issues raised by you.”
While it is not immediately clear what the government has on its mind, a legal MSP (which potentially means the government will have to pitch in, if and when private buyers of crops don’t pay the MSP to farmers), if implemented, could jack up the government’s subsidy budget to astronomical levels. As per an FE analysis, the total value of marketable surplus of 20 main crops at MSP was Rs 7.52 lakh crore during 2019-20 crop year (July-June). The actual procurement costs at MSP of paddy, wheat, five pulses and two oilseeds was Rs 2.19 lakh crore during 2019-20; of course, the economic cost of procurement also includes storage cost, market fees, commissions to arhatiyas and other incidentals.
“In the letter dated December 20, it was clearly mentioned that the government was ready for a constructive discussions on all issues raised by farmers unions…It was pointed out that the system of procurement at MSP has no relation with the laws related to farm reforms. It was already stated that the government was ready to offer a written assurance for continuation of procurement at MSP. However, raising a new demand on this issue and its inclusion in the talks does not look logical. Still, the government is ready to discuss all issued raised by you,” Vivek Agarwal, a joint secretary in agriculture ministry, wrote to 40 farmer leaders. He also asked the leaders that the government be intimated at the leaders’ convenience “a suitable date and time” for the discussion to resume, and also the agenda for talks.
In the earlier letter, the government proposed to discuss the farmer leaders’ objections to different provisions in the laws as well as some proposed changes offered to resolve the protest.
Darshan Pal of Samyukta Kisan Morcha in his letter to Agarwal on Wednesday had said: “We want to assure you that agitating farmers are ready for talks. We are waiting to know when the government will take it forward with an open mind. It is requested that instead of reiterating rejected proposals, you may please send concrete proposals as agenda of the discussion. On MSP, there is nothing in your proposal that befits a reply. You talked about written assurance on MSP while farmer organisations are demanding legal guarantee for selling at MSP and fixing the prices at C2 costs (including imputed rent of own land and imputed interest on own capital) as recommended by the Swaminathan Commission.”
More than one lakh farmers have been protesting outside Delhi borders since November 26 demanding repeal of the three farm laws, enacted recently to unshackle Indian agriculture from various restrictions.
The pressure on the government has been building up as many farmer organisations have been giving allegiance to the government’s cause and met agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar in this connection are also of the view that something has to be done to ensure the farmers receive the MSPs.
Sompal Shastri, who was minister of state for agriculture during Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s cabinet, has also reportedly suggested to the government to accede to the farmers’ demand on MSP. It is also learnt that Niti Aayog member Ramesh Chand is also working on a plan on the MSP issue.
The Centre last week ruled out the possibility of putting on hold the new farm laws until a proposed committee of independent experts is constituted to facilitate talks with protesting farmers. Attorney general KK Venugopal said the Centre can’t heed the Supreme Court’s suggestion that no executive action be taken under the news, but he said he would seek the government’s instructions on the matter.