Though the latest round of meeting between the representatives of the agitating farmers and the Centre brought about a thaw in an otherwise frozen relationship, there was no headway on the key demands to repeal the new farm laws and provide legal guarantee on the Minimum Support Price (MSP). While it is a welcome sign that both sides have agreed to keep the dialogue process going, with the next round slated for January 4, there is a need for a give-and-take approach to find an amicable solution in the larger interests of the farming community. While the farmers’ associations need to be pragmatic and avoid sticking to their maximalist position, the government must show greater sensitivity and concern to the issues raised by those opposing the farm laws. The reports of protestors in Punjab and Haryana indulging in arson and destruction of properties are disquieting. Vandalism will only end up delegitimising what has essentially been a just cause. On its part, the NDA leadership should find a middle ground that is acceptable to all stakeholders instead of trying to belittle the agitation and show the protestors in poor light. The next round of negotiations should resume in a spirit of sincerity. By agreeing to drop the contentious provisions of the draft Electricity Amendment Bill, 2020, which are intended to change the existing mode of subsidy payment to consumers, and to “decriminalise” stubble burning by excluding farmers from the ambit of the ‘Commission for the Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance 2020’, the Centre has taken a step forward in addressing the concerns.
The MSP has been the trickiest among the issues on the table. While the government has expressed its willingness to give it in writing that the MSP will continue, the unions have been insisting on a legal guarantee. The Centre is unlikely to scrap farm laws altogether but has advanced a clutch of amendments. These include some mechanism of regulating proposed free markets so that farmers feel more secure as they face big buyers and a written assurance on the MSP. Since agriculture is a State subject, it would be prudent to leave the policies concerning the marketing of the agricultural produce to the discretion of the State governments. Farming and marketing conditions vary across regions. It is only fair that the State governments get to decide what should be the appropriate response. The Centre should have initiated widespread consultations with the States and built a consensus around reforms instead of bulldozing the legislations in Parliament. As the politics of confrontation has already fractured the country’s social fabric, the Centre must desist from arbitrary policymaking in the interests of upholding federal spirit.
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