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86% farmer groups supported 3 repealed laws: SC-appointed panel found

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Committee advised states be given freed in implementing the reforms but recommendations matter little as acts were dropped.

farmers protests

A panel of experts constituted by the  of India to study the three farm acts claimed 86 per cent of organisations representing more than 3 crore farmers supported the laws the central government repealed last year after months-long protests.

The high powered panel, whose recommendations are of little consequence now, advocated retaining the three acts and suggested that states may be allowed flexibility in implementing and designing them with the central government’s approval.

It said that repealing or suspending of the controversial farm acts would be "unfair" to the silent majority who supported the laws.

The  set up the panel in January 2020 while staying the implementation of the three laws. It initially had four members: agriculture economist Ashok Gulati, Shetkari Sanghatana (Maharashtra) president Anil Ghanwat, International Food Policy Research Institute's Pramod Kumar Joshi and Bhupinder Singh Mann, president of a faction of the Bhartiya Kisan Union.

Mann later recused himself from the panel.

The panel’s report said that some alternative mechanisms for dispute settlement--through civil courts or arbitration mechanisms such as farmer courts--may be provided to the stakeholders. The panel’s report is expected to be made public soon.

The panel recommended a mechanism to strengthen agricultural infrastructure through cooperatives and Farmer Producer organizations (FPOs), while an agriculture marketing council with all states and UTs as members may be formed for implementation of the acts.

Farmers protests

After the three acts were implemented through ordinances in June 2020, protests against them broke out in several parts of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh—regions that are the grain bowl of the country.

The agitation that started as stray protests in some villages of Punjab gathered steam over time and spread to Haryana, western Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.

The chief demand of the agitating farmers has been repeal of the three acts along with a legal guarantee on Minimum Support Price (MSP).

The protests reached a crescendo when thousands of farmers from Punjab and elsewhere marched towards the capital Delhi in 2020 and decided to block the main entry points once they were denied entry.

The Centre, on its part, held 11 rounds of discussions with the protesting farmers and even offered to amend some of provisions without much success, as the protestors struck to their main demand of repeal of the acts.

The violent events of January 26 2021, when scores of agitating farmers deviated from a fixed tractor rally route and forced entry into the main thoroughfares, leading to pitched battles with the police, was seen as a big setback for the stir but the forced eviction of Bhartiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait and his emotional outburst revived the sagging morale of the agitators.

And within days, western Uttar Pradesh became the new epicenter of the protests, which shifted from Punjab and Haryana.

In between, the  intervened and decided to constitute a high-powered panel of experts to study the three laws and suggest a way forward.

The panel was rejected by the protesting farmers as it consisted of people known to have favoured the laws in some forum or the other.

After almost a year of protests, Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a televised address to the nation on the occasion of Guru Nanak Jayanti, announced to repeal all the three laws.

Panel’s recommendations

*Recommendation regarding farmers produce trade and commerce (promotion and facilitation) Act 2020*

*Development of price information and market intelligence system to facilitate efficient 'price discovery' and strengthen the bargaining power of the farmers.

* Terms of reference of CACP can be expanded to collate, analyze and disseminate price information.

* Convert existing APMCs to revenue generating entities by making them hubs of agri-business.

Recommendations related to Farmers (empowerment and protection) Agreement on price assurance and farm services Act, 2020

* A model contract agreement should be formulated and shared on the website with all stakeholders to remove various glitches in implementation.

* A major communication exercise needs to be undertaken to clear apprehension the land of farmers would be usurped under this Act.

* To lend security to the contract for both parties, the contract agreement should be signed by two

witness from farmer's as well as contractors’ side.

* Provision in the farming agreement should be made in case market prices increase than the contracted prices.

Recommendations related to essential commodities (amendment) Act (ECA), 2020*

* Consider completely abolishing the ECA Act, 1995.

* The price triggers, at 100% for perishables and 50% non-perishables in the Act, may be reviewed and enhanced to 200% and 75% respectively.

* Quantity of stock limits, if imposed, should be reviewed on a fortnightly basis.

* The reference period for price rise may be reduced to the last 3 years.

* Export bans need to be rationalized and should be imposed in an objective manner based on similar price triggers as envisaged in this Act.

Recommendations related to agricultural price policies

*Open ended procurement policy needs to be discontinued as it is distorting the composition of agricultural output in certain states with its adjunct environmental consequences.

* Supports the approach of NFAED in carrying out procurement operations in pulses and oilseeds under the Price support scheme.

* Procurement of crops at a declared MSP can be the prerogative of the States as per their specific agricultural policy priorities. These states can provide for a legal backing for such procurements at their own cost- as the recent Punjab amendment Act.

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