The Supreme Court’s order to put the contentious farm laws on hold is a welcome development against the backdrop of widespread criticism over NDA government’s inept handling of the agitation. A sense of weariness had crept in with eight rounds of talks between the Centre and farmer representatives ending in a deadlock. It is time the Centre listened to the dissenting voices of farmers and the State governments and recalibrated its agricultural reforms strategy in a manner that doesn’t hurt the interests of the farming community. While ordering a stay on the implementation of the farm laws, the apex court has rightly pulled up the government for its insensitive handling of the farmers’ protest. It also announced the constitution of a four-member committee of agricultural experts to hold talks with the protestors to resolve the impasse. Both the Centre and farmer associations must now utilise the window of opportunity provided by the court and make earnest efforts to sort out the issue. The initial response to the court’s ruling from the joint front of the agitating farmer unions has been disappointing. Their point-blank refusal to participate in the proceedings of the court-appointed committee amounts to obstinate and irrational behaviour and will not help the cause of farmers. Instead of sticking to their maximalist position that repealing the contentious laws alone will satisfy them, the agitators must show flexibility in their approach and suggest modifications in the laws after detailed discussions over each clause. On its part, the Centre must agree for providing legal guarantee to the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for various crops.
So far, the government has been prevaricating and trying to wear out the protesters. More alarmingly, a section of the ruling party leaders tried to characterise the stir as being Punjab-centric, whereas farmers from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and other States have also been vocal in opposing the laws. The vandalism witnessed at Kaimla village in Haryana’s Karnal district where Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar was scheduled to hold a Kisan Mahapanchayat but had to cancel it, unfortunately, shows that the discontent is manifesting itself in violent ways and how quickly things can spin out of control. Hopefully, the apex court’s welcome intervention will prompt the government to be part of the solution rather than of the problem. Agriculture is a State subject and it should remain so. The Centre can push the nation towards prosperity by formulating model laws on State subjects but it should leave it to the people, particularly the State governments, to accept, modify or even reject the proposals. Good governance is all about finding solutions, however intractable the situation may appear to be, in the true spirit of federalism.
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