Anil Ghanvat, one of the members of the Supreme Court-appointed panel on agricultural laws, said in an interview to CNN-News18 that he was “shocked and completely shocked” by the Prime Minister’s announcement. Narendra Modi on repeal.
Ghanwat said the biggest findings from the SC-appointed panel’s report would be the suggested changes in the Essential Commodities Act and the judicial process for conflict resolution, which is among the three contentious agriculture laws. “There has been a major change in the dispute settlement process which was mentioned in the laws.” He also said that the report suggested that states should be given more freedom “in certain cases”.
He also emphasized that the panel is urging the Supreme Court to make the report on agricultural laws public and it should not be kept in cold storage. He even said that he will have to disclose it by going against the court.
“Farmers have been misled, they have been given wrong information, which is why the agitation started,” he said. The report should be widely discussed, he insisted, even in Parliament.
Here is the interview:
When you heard the news that three controversial agriculture laws would be repealed, were you surprised or did you know that the government can think of repeal of the laws as an alternative?
No, it was shocking. I was completely stunned. It was a very unfortunate decision to hear for the farmers and the country. At least the government should not have backed down like this. He should have discussed with some people-farmers or supporters. It should have come to the press that they are at least thinking of doing so. Then, he should have looked at the reaction of the farmers. This kind of shock treatment was not expected.
Why do you think the Prime Minister took such a decision? Because the government has tried hard to convince the farmers and made it clear that they are ready to consider any demand less than repeal. What compelled the government to take such a decision?
It is good that this government had the political will to reform. But this movement which lasted for more than a year has created a pressure and now with the upcoming elections, the pressure has increased manifold. If this situation is not resolved, I am not quite sure, they must have thought that this would hurt their popularity in the states especially Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, they would suffer the most. So, to avoid that damage, I think, they would have repealed the laws. I hope that after the election they will form a committee and resume the effort to continue with the reforms.
What will be the outcome of the report of the panel lying in abeyance in the Supreme Court?
I do not know. Only the Supreme Court knows what will be the outcome of the report. The situation today is that it has been thrown out. We are trying to make it public. We are requesting the Hon’ble Supreme Court to make the report public or allow us to make it public. So, we are trying to bring out the report but God knows what will happen to it. May be, I will have to risk contempt of court and release him.
Are you ready to do so?
I’ll have to wait. I have to give enough time to the top court. And if the need arises, if the situation worsens even further, it will have to be done for the sake of the farmers, for the sake of the country.
The panel had three members. Is the report you presented in the court unanimous or disagreeable?
All three agreed, they were together. Everyone has contributed to this. And we agree on every word of that report.
What is one of the big points in the report that you have submitted to the Supreme Court?
You are trying to extract information from me about the report. The biggest conclusion would be first, it is about the Essential Commodities Act Amendment, and second is the judicial process. There has been a major change in the dispute settlement process which was mentioned in the laws.
Have you mentioned the change in law in your report in these two cases?
Yes. We have mentioned changes in every law – Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC), contract farming, essential commodities amendment. But these are the big changes you can expect.
Is there any mention in your report to leave the final decision on whether they want to adopt these laws? Is there any suggestion to give independence to the states?
No, it is not about accepting or rejecting the total report or whatever law is made after accessing this report. It is about some facts about where states can be allowed to do on their own.
Will the states not be allowed to comply with certain provisions in the laws if they choose to do so?
They have freedom in respect of certain matters. In some procedures, they can do it on their own. This report does not oblige the states to do this or that. This is a guideline for the state. This is more like a model act type issue. Freedom should be given to each state because each state has a different type of terrain, climatic conditions, crops, cultures, everything is different and you cannot charge MSP (Minimum Support Price) for all crops. India Similarly. If a state wants to promote a certain crop, let’s say, one state wants to promote oilseeds, another wants to promote pulses, they should have the freedom to give them on their own. If they have to procure or import from other states, they should have the freedom to promote their farmers, subsidize their farmers and pay MSP for that crop, even if it is not in the list.
So, has the panel decided to give freedom to the states to make their own decisions even after it becomes a law?
to some extent.
‘Somewhat,’ can you elaborate?
Actually, many states have taken it (those decisions). Contract farming is actually in process in 15 states, with (has been) regulating fruits, flowers and vegetables since 2006. Twenty one states have given permission to sell outside the mandis.
If the state decides not to regulate, is it at liberty to do so?
The people of the state will decide whether to accept it or not. Other states are enjoying independence and if any state is not giving permission, the farmers will naturally revolt.
But the panel has given the liberty that if they take such a decision they will not regulate it?
It is not absolute freedom as there are some cases which cannot be avoided. For example, transportation. If I am from Maharashtra and I want to sell my wheat to Odisha and states, then don’t allow transportation of wheat from my states in between so that it can’t be done. So, we have some restrictions, really no restrictions on such activities. They have the power to support the farmers, not to regulate them.
I’m a little confused. In your report, do states have the freedom to abide by or reject the laws? Does the state have discretion?
For example, the Essential Commodities Act, they have to follow it. It is a central law. No state can say that these items that have been removed from the list will be regulated in our state… but if a state wants to pay MSP for a crop that is not in the list, they are allowed to do so.
Can the state decide not to give MSP?
Yes, they can do this.
Have you not been able to reach out to the protesting farmers’ unions, especially those that were not represented? Do you think this is a drawback when it comes to your report?
It’s not our fault in this. We requested them. We have called, we have sent messages, we have sent WhatsApp messages. I have personally called some of my friends who are sitting there. He said he would not meet the committee; This is the decision of SKM (United Kisan Morcha). And no one came out. And we heard those who got up. They said we don’t want to say anything, we just want a repeal, we have taken note of it. This is not our report, this is not our view. That’s what the majority said. Most of the people with whom we interacted have given their views and we have prepared the report accordingly. They are not our thoughts.
What do you think are the demands of the farmers now, especially regarding MSP?
Legal MSP cannot be distributed. It cannot be implemented. The country does not have that kind of financial coffers. Once an open ended purchase is made, we do not have a system to dispose of the purchased content. We do not have the infrastructure to store the procured material and every crop farmer will start demanding MSP. For example, if I am an onion farmer, I would say that onion needs MSP, potato also needs MSP, and so on milk, eggs and chicken. Everyone will come with their demand and to what extent the government can buy all the goods and what will it do. There will be a crisis. Destruction is about to happen.
Do you think that if the laws are repealed in Parliament, there will be some sort of breakthrough between the protesting farmers’ unions and the government?
Now these farmers are bent on showing their strength. They are going to create some controversy and only then the outcome will be decided, the future of the movement will be decided. I can’t say anything today. But I think the major demands of the farmers have been fulfilled. They should go home and if they have some demand then SKM can come and talk to the government and settle the matter by sitting at the table. They don’t need to be on the side of the road indefinitely.
What future do you see for your panel report? How would you like to use it?
The report will appear. Supreme Court will take it up in the next hearing, whenever the matter is listed or we will have to wait for sometime and then maybe we will issue the report on our own. I don’t mean to imply that our report is 100% accurate but it may need improvement. We welcome them but whatever suggestions, recommendations we have given, they should come before the farmers because they have been misled, they have been given wrong information, hence the movement has arisen. Whenever our report is sent to the farmers, they will consider it and they can come in support of it or they can demand squash of the report. Whatever happens we will see. But the content in the report should be discussed. This can be debated in the Parliament and after discussion, new laws should be made and then it should be given a legal framework.
Are you planning to release the report before the Parliament session starts next week?
No, it’s going to take time.