Much more besides MSP within wide purview of committee; questions raised no sooner than it is formed
The way the SKM does not want to be a part of the committee, the latter may meet the same fate as the expert committee formed by the Supreme Court on the three farm laws did. Besides, thousands of pages of recommendations of the Dalwai Committee, which had been formed to double the farmers’ income, are already there.
The Supreme Court had formed an expert committee to resolve the farmers’ movement against the three central farm laws brought about by the Union government in June 2020. The report of the committee was made public after the movement came to an end and soon people forgot it. Now the government has published in the July 18 Gazette a July 12 notification of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare regarding the formation of a committee on agriculture-related issues. It is a 29-member committee.
The government had said, as part of the conditions to end the farmers’ movement, that it would form a committee on Minimum Support Price (MSP). It is believed that this committee has been formed to fulfil that promise. But going by the profile of the committee in terms of its members and also by the extent of its purview as mentioned in the notification, it won’t be factual to say that the committee is only on MSP.
Besides, no sooner was the notification issued than a controversy has started about it. That the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), which led the farmers’ movement, will not be part of the committee has come to light. Rural Voice had indicated this right when the formation of the committee was announced. However, the notification says that there will be three members in the committee from the SKM and that they will be included in the committee as soon as the umbrella organization sends their names.
Whatever Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said while announcing the repeal of the three farm laws has been made the basis of the purview of the committee formed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare. Some of the members of the committee have even admitted this in informal talks with Rural Voice.
The issue of MSP is a significant one in the purview of the committee, which will suggest how to make it effective and transparent across the country. But nowhere has it been mentioned that the committee will give its opinion regarding legal guarantee for MSP, which has been the farmer organizations’ main demand. SKM members say that they had demanded the terms of reference before the committee was formed, but these were not shared with them. So, they do not accept the committee to be in tune with their demand.
A policy expert on agricultural issues says that being a 29-member committee, its membership is so large that it will be tedious for it to come to any concrete conclusion. Besides making MSP effective, the committee will work on making the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) more autonomous, improving the market mechanism, and promoting natural farming and crop diversification. The committee has a large number of government officials. The inclusion of secretaries from various departments implies that most of the issues placed before the committee should have been dealt with earlier. They have already been running these departments.
Officials from the farmer organizations say that former Agriculture Secretary Sanjay Agrawal has been made the chairman of the committee. His role had been crucial in right from preparing the three controversial central farm laws to implementing and defending them. How can the committee win the farmers’ confidence in such a situation? At the same time, including the advocates of the three central farm laws in the name of farmer representatives is also bothering the farmer organizations.
However, the committee has NITI Aayog member Prof. Ramesh Chand. It also has Dr CSC Shekhar from the Indian Institute of Economic Growth and Dr Sukhpal Singh from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM). The ICAR Director-General is also a member of the committee. But the committee is dominated by government officials as besides the chairman, it has five secretaries of the Union and officials from four states.
Some experts say that going by the way the SKM does not want to be part of the committee, the latter may meet the same fate as the expert committee formed by the Supreme Court on the three farm laws did. Besides, thousands of pages of recommendations of the Dalwai Committee, which had been formed to double the farmers’ income, are already there. Given the all-encompassing nature of the purview of the affairs of the new committee, it may also go the same way. So, it should not be seen as a committee focusing merely on MSP. Significantly, the notification mentions no deadline for the committee to submit its report.
Another big question is: The government has constantly been talking about working on all these issues. It has spoken of working on crop diversification and marketing. Given this, what will the recommendations of this committee mean?
In contrast to its main objective, the alternative of forming a committee as a solution to the farmers’ movement has only offered the SKM a new issue to raise. Political parties, too, have begun to criticize the government on the issue.
It is also a coincidence that when Kunwar Danish Ali, a Lok Sabha MP from Amroha in Uttar Pradesh, asked the question about giving a legal guarantee for MSP, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar came up with the reply in the house on 19 July 2022. Replying with an emphatic ‘No’ to legal guarantee for MSP, the Minister said that a committee had been formed on making MSP effective and other issues like crop diversification and CACP autonomy. Besides, he shared information on the MSP given for various crops.
If demands are being made to reconstitute the committee at the very time of its formation, only time will tell how seriously its recommendations will be taken. But one thing is for sure. Questions are being raised about the seriousness of the committee right at its inception.