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No one is a stranger to the swift method by which agricultural reforms of 2020 were brought out by the Modi government. These Farm Laws were aimed at the growth of the livelihood of 9-10 crore agricultural households that depend significantly on agriculture. It was also geared towards opening up the agricultural sector and making it lucrative for all engaged in the sector through external investment and direct income support. However, the passing of the laws in a blink of an eye sent the country into a tailspin for over a year with growing farmers’ discontentment and never-ending protests amidst the global pandemic. The protests led to the formation of the Supreme Court Committee (SCC) in January 2021 and also the eventual repeal of the laws by the end of 2021. 

The findings brought out in the SCC report at the end of 2021, indicated that the majority of the Farmer Organisations (FOs) that participated in the discussions supported the farm laws in its entirety, while a few supported it with minor suggestions and a meagre four did not support it at all. Albeit, if looked at critically, the report could act as a kickoff pad for the Modi government to revisit the farm laws and bring out a plan of action that would aid in the successful implementation of the Agricultural Reforms. After a critical evaluation of the entire chapter on farmers’ protests and the SCC report, a few crucial learnings have come to light. If the Modi government chooses to act on reviving the laws, it needs to be cognizant of its strategic communication, predominantly since the policies in discussion impact crores of Indian farmer families and have the ability to be a widely politicised point of contention. 

There are three crucial steps the Modi government can consider undertaking to reform the agriculture sector. Firstly, the communication gap between farmers and what the Government intended through these Acts needs to be addressed. Secondly, the poorly defined scope of the laws which left the majority of the farmers feeling vulnerable and was widely leveraged by the opposition needs to be broadened. Thirdly, work on reducing the disconnect between the Centre and the states. 

Stakeholder Discussion Campaign Pan-India 

The first-course correction would be holding stakeholder discussions with farmers, farmer representatives, government officials and even corporate functionaries collectively. Since the laws witnessed a large level of angst among the farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Western UP predominantly due to a lack of awareness and poor communication regarding the details of the laws,  it is imperative that the Modi government rectifies this by discussing and deliberating on these reforms, specifically involving representatives from the three states. 

One classic and most recent example of an opportunity lost was the announcement and formation of the MSP committee in July 2022 wherein provisions were made for a total of 26 members including only three members from Sayukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) to discuss matters on  MSP and related things. The government miscalculated the importance of having representatives from the three protesting states and instead invited farmer representatives from Odisha, Sikkim, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. This action led to the not-so-surprising reaction from SKM which not only boycotted the MSP committee but also widely discussed their plans for further protests in the coming months. They believed the MSP Committee showed the government’s disregard for the farmers reflective in the committee members they chose, coupled with the delayed announcement of the Terms of Reference of the Committee. 

Stakeholder discussions should also include discussions around the creation and strengthening of Producer Organisations, on the lines of India’s dairy sector. The dairy sector of India makes for a successful example of how milk producers formed small clusters through cooperatives and brought about a dairy revolution. At present, farmers view organisational mechanisms in a very traditional way. Building institutional mechanisms within their community will go a long way in addressing their inhibitions regarding market liberalisation. Representatives from existing producer organisations could partake in these discussions, to give protesting farmers more knowledge on how the PO’s work successfully with corporates. Similarly, even corporate stakeholders could be brought on board to share their experiences of working with the dairy producers’  community. 

The government must methodically plan stakeholder discussions, especially in the state of Punjab, Haryana and UP, and bring farmers, corporates and everyone involved in the same room to discuss a way forward with farmers’ growth and agricultural sustainability at the core of the discussion. It is also pivotal that the farmer organisations are represented in all such discussions and committees when given the opportunity, unlike in the case of the SCC and MSP Committee wherein both witnessed zero participation from opposing FOs. The success of these discussions is only possible with every stakeholder’s participation. 

Broadening the Scope of the Bills

With the stakeholder discussions come the government’s understanding of why the laws induced such potent opposition from the farmers. There is a need for the government to broaden the scope of the bills to formulate a truly holistic policy and try to address all possible gaps that could come up in the policy cycle of these reforms. As per the SCC report, the government must incorporate provisions regarding the protection of the interests of small and marginal farmers; mention contractors/investors as suppliers of seeds, pesticides, machinery/technology, and other inputs; enable time-bound court-related decisions, and formulate a strong legal ecosystem for farmers etc. 

If the government is truly motivated to liberalise the Indian agricultural sector and increase the farmers’  income, the reforms should also incorporate mechanisms to build the capability and capacity to equip the farmers to utilise the laws for their growth and welfare. For example, the government should consider creating an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) after holding discussions with experts, introducing contracts in vernacular language and revising the provision of the ‘option to select board members by the parties in ADR  to ensure the protection of farmers’ rights. 

Furthermore, local governments and FPOs could also be encouraged to open mediation cells to settle disputes between the farmers and the other parties. Simultaneously, the local self-governments and FPOs should also make farmers in the states aware of these cells’ existence and their importance. Actions like these could go a long way in gaining farmers’ trust in the Modi government’s intention. These provisions should also find their way during the stakeholder discussions as this would strengthen the communication around these reforms within the farming community pan-India. 

Creating a Symbiosis between Centre and State

Creating holistic reforms keeping all states and farmers in mind will ensure the implication of these central laws by the state governments,  and it could bring cohesiveness and collaboration.  It will work in everyone’s benefit if the government can create a symbiotic relationship with the states to reform and liberalise India’s agricultural sector. 

The excessive subsidies have neither grown the farmers’  income nor strengthened agriculture productivity. The decreasing land size, poor agricultural infrastructure, weak value chains, reducing water tables, increasing heatflation due to climate change etc., all are going to make matters worse for the farmers and India’s agriculture in the coming years. Hence, building the capacity and capability of farmers is the need of the hour and by liberalising the sector many of these issues can be addressed. 

Before it becomes another forgotten matter, the Modi government should capitalise on the momentum and undertake steps to revive the farm laws, in its new and improved form. Until then, the wheel will keep on spinning using the same old formula, with little or no respite for all engaged or wanting to get engaged in agriculture and allied services.


This was first published on 30 Sep 2022 in ‘The Hindustan Times.’ Read it here.

Views expressed by the author are personal and need not reflect or represent the views of the Centre for Public Policy Research.

References
  1.  National Statistical Office’s Situation Assessment of Agricultural Households (SAAH) report for 2018-19 
  2.  https://farmer.gov.in/sccommittee/  Page 43
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Senior Associate, Academy at Centre for Public Policy Research | + posts

Akanksha is a Senior Associate, Academy at Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR). She completed her graduation in Political Science from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai and her post graduation in International Studies from Durham University, UK. She wrote her dissertation on India’s Nuclear Proliferation and its basis in India’s Non-Alignment Policy. With her deep interest in global and national politics she went on to work as a Political Consultant. She worked on state elections like Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Haryana. Simultaneously, she also worked on various state level and national level policies and wrote reports on topics like Increasing Women’s Labour Force Participation in India and India’s Burgeoning Gig Economy.

Akanksha Gupta
Akanksha Gupta
Akanksha is a Senior Associate, Academy at Centre for Public Policy Research (CPPR). She completed her graduation in Political Science from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai and her post graduation in International Studies from Durham University, UK. She wrote her dissertation on India’s Nuclear Proliferation and its basis in India’s Non-Alignment Policy. With her deep interest in global and national politics she went on to work as a Political Consultant. She worked on state elections like Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Haryana. Simultaneously, she also worked on various state level and national level policies and wrote reports on topics like Increasing Women’s Labour Force Participation in India and India’s Burgeoning Gig Economy.

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