By Anjan Roy
The Supreme Court’s judgement on the farm laws sounded like a theatre of the absurd. For whom the bell rang. For the government? For the agitating farmers? For neither?
By deferring the implementation of the farm laws with its judgment on Tuesday, the apex court has given a much-needed respite to the union government, while on the face of it, bad-mouthing the government for numerous lapses. “We are staying three farm laws until further orders,” Chief Justice SA Bobde said.
On the other hand, the judgement has handed over a fait accompli to the farmers and an indirect ultimatum to withdraw the agitation, failing which the farmers will appear to be the intransigent, fall guy.
As for the committee the Supreme Court is said to be constituting, from the names that have been proposed as members, these experts are committed to the very farm laws against which he farmers have been agitating.
Ashok Gulati, former director of the International Food Research Institute, has been one of the most sonorous proponent of the changes these laws have ushered in. P.K. Joshi, another former director of IFRI, has been advocate of these changes to give farmers more options to sell their products.
Bhupinder Singh Mann, former legislator, has actively asked for the changes. And yet another proposed member, Anti Gawade, from the Maharashtra KshetkariSangathan, is a disciple of Sharad Joshi who had campaigned for these changes.
Any examination of the farmers’ demands by such a committee or interaction with the committee would be a foregone conclusion: only towards cajoling the farmers to come round and gracefully accept the new laws. So the government’s remit will be theirs.
And by deferring the implementation of three farm laws and constitution an expert committee to make on the ground evaluation of the three laws and their impact, the Supreme Court seems to have taken upon itself what is essentially the function of the union government.
But, the court is finding itself in situation in which farmers refuse to take cognisance of what the apex court had thought it was offering them — a convenient olive branch. The farmers have bluntly refused to have anything to do with the Supreme Court’s expert committee and refuses to appear before it.
Thus, it has created a situation in which the farm laws remain temporarily stalled without any avenues for negotiations to take the issue forward.
This to a lay person would appear to be the plain case of judicial overreach where neither of the contestants has really asked for its assistance other than some fringe elements.
Unfortunately, the entire proceeding has shown up the progressive hardening of the stance of the agitating farmers. They have demanded nothing short of outright withdrawal of the three farm laws in question whatever their incidence. The government had on its part offered to negotiate even bring amendments which the farmers want. But nothing pleases the farmers.
The farm laws incorporate suggestions and reasoned position on the issue of farm products marketing. For over three decades there have been talks about replacing the existing system of marketing of farm produce and removal of the restrictions on movements of farm products across the state borders. The government had tin fact old the court that the laws “were not hurriedly made”, that they were the result of two decades of deliberations.
The restrictive provisions on movements of farm products were bright into being by the fear of shortages. A cornucopia of laws were enacted over the initial years which bound the farmers’ hands in marketing of their produce. They had to sell their production at the local Mandis and through the state apparatus of marketing.
Various dues had to be paid to the local Mandis and market committees and only through them the products could be sold.
The new laws stipulate that the farmers shall have a free hand in selling their produce and hey could bypass the Mandis and marketing mechanism by contracting large buyers —the so called corporates— for selling their products at prices booked in advance. Ths was simply the procedure for forward sales which is all too common for many other products.
An aspect of the entire agitation is to what extent social media could influence matters. In social media the myth was created that farmers’ lands will be taken away in case they contracted to sell their produce to large corporate buyers. The myth prevailed over the truth that the farmers would only sell their produce not the land, as even the meanest intelligence would easily know.
Whatever the fight, the farm laws are the principal reform measure for the farm sector which had remained outside of any reforms. The opportunity should not now be drowned under mishandling and misunderstanding. (IPA Service)