Ongoing differences between the farmers and the Indian Government can largely be put down to improper handling of the core issues at play by all involved parties
The Supreme Court of India had stayed the implementation of the three agricultural reform acts on January 12 passed by the Parliament in September 2020 viz., the 'Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act', 'Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act', and the 'Essential Commodities Amendment Act'. This is for the first time that the Court has stayed an act passed by the Parliament without a hearing. The Government first on June 5, 2020, brought out these three acts through the route of an ordinance. The three-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by the Chief Justice of India constituted a four-member committee so that common ground can be found and a solution to the vexed problem is achieved in favour of farmers. The Apex Court has taken this decision after the farmers who are opposing these reforms filed a case in the Supreme Court. However, in the surcharged atmosphere, there are murmuring signals that the agitating farmers egged on by the political parties may not accept this intervention of the Apex Court. Earlier the Supreme Court had deferred the hearings for January 11, 2020, when the ninth round of talks with farmers was fixed on January 8, 2020. The talks failed as both the Government and the farmers union did not budge from their respective stands. The farmers wanted the total abrogation of these farm laws and the Government led by the Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar categorically told the farmers that the laws enacted will not be withdrawn and asked the farmers to bring amendments in the relevant sections which they consider anti-farmer or approach the Supreme Court.
The fact is that the farmers' agitation is confined largely to Punjab, Haryana, Western Uttar Pradesh and some sporadic instances were also noticed from Rajasthan and Maharashtra. The farmers' body All India Farmers Confederation and several others had supported the bills and many other farmers groups have also come out in support of the acts and have, in fact, filed their counter petitions in the Court.
But the common citizens of the country are quite surprised that if we see the ground reality in the State of Punjab and some other opposition ruled states, it seems the matter has not been handled deftly and the agitation before the Supreme Court intervention had assumed that both the groups and political parties are on an ego trip with grounded political agenda. Let us examine if this is a case of 'much ado about nothing' and all the agencies including Central and state governments, farmers and the court have ignored the correct way of tackling this crisis. The biggest blame has to be shared by the Ministry of Agriculture as the guardian of farmers' interests and governance for the lack of communications and sensitivity on the issue relating to the welfare of farmers and infiltration of a few anti-national elements. In the first instance, there was no hurry in bringing these reforms through an ordinance. When the country had waited for 70 long years, a few months would not have made any difference when the Government was already taking several farmer-friendly decisions. The opposition is also responsible for fanning the agitation which has been infiltrated by the anti-national elements.
But the moot question the informed public wants to know is to what extent the laws can benefit or harm the farmers within the limits of legal boundaries or whether the farmers and the state governments are bound to implement these acts. Is it too difficult and sensitive an issue to be solved? The answer according to this writer is no and the entire argument for and against the acts is obfuscating the main issue of farmers welfare. It can be solved very easily provided we abide by constitutional values and rule of law. Many farmers' organisations all over India have also been supporting these acts. While agriculture is in the state list under the Constitution, Entry 33 of the Concurrent List empowers the Centre and the states to control production, supply and distribution of agricultural products. The Central Government is, therefore, empowered to enact the laws and the laws constitutional validity cannot be challenged.
However, if certain groups of farmers especially from Punjab and Haryana who had been feeding the nation for a long time and are suspecting foul play real or imaginary, it is incumbent on all sections of society including the Government to play a positive role in the national interest. The Central Government should have taken a leaf out of the intensity of agitation and brought out an amendment making the acts as model acts like the APMC acts which served as a springboard for the states on 'Mandi Samities' or it could leave the implementation on the states based on the perceptions of the local farmers. It is also intriguing to note that if the Punjab Assembly has passed the resolution for not implementing these acts in their state, then what is the justification for the State Government to insist on repeal of these acts. They should bring an amendment if need be for presidential approval. Further, the opposition and the farmers have raised questions on the fairness of the members appointed by the Supreme Court.
It is, therefore, necessary that the Apex Court takes its decision strictly within the legal and constitutional basis and instead of entering an area where the politicians are making this issue a murky game, the Supreme Court should consider directing the Central Government to bring an amendment to these acts for leaving the choice of implementing on the state governments or pass an order to make each of them a model act but since the farmers' groups are divided it would be appropriate to leave the choice on state governments. After all, agriculture is basically the responsibility of the states.
The writer is the Chairman of the Centre for Resource Management and Environment. Views expressed are personal