A day after Bharat bandh, which was near total in Punjab and partial in several states across the country, the Centre has agreed to give a written assurance on the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and fix a uniform tax for private market yards and Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis. However, the government has not accepted the farmers’ key demand to repeal the contentious farm laws. Still, the climbdown is significant as Tuesday’s bandh had made a major statement about the groundswell of support for the farmers.
The government’s proposal for amending the Acts has cut no ice with the farm unions. After the inconclusive meeting between a select group of farmers’ leaders and Home Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday night and the cancellation of official talks slated for Wednesday, the onus is now again on the government to break the deadlock. Led by the Prime Minister, the Centre has been harping on the benefits of the new laws, but has failed to address the farmers’ concerns. The attempts by some leaders of the ruling party to vilify the agitators have only worsened the situation. It’s natural for Punjab’s farmers to fear the worst as the state has a robust government procurement system that has stood the test of time. Any law that presumably tinkers with this set-up is bound to be viewed with mistrust by them. The government needs to reach out to the farming community, which was in the vanguard of the Green Revolution but is now grappling with indebtedness, diminishing profits and shrinking landholdings.
The Centre’s immediate objective is to end the prolonged siege laid at Delhi’s borders, but at the same time, it has to come up with genuine proposals that would help farmers gain remunerative prices. Agriculture was the lone sector that registered growth during two successive quarters this year (April-June and July-September), even as the lockdown-hit Indian economy slipped into recession. The focus should be on strengthening the sector rather than causing disruptions that can adversely affect its performance and famed resilience.