Farm laws repeal: What happens to the reforms process?

New Delhi: The sudden announcement on Friday by the Prime Minister that the three contentious farm laws would be repealed has set the cat amongst the pigeons with academics and intelligentsia questioning the fate of reforms and the BJP denying there is no such precedent.

The IANS-CVoter snap opinion poll conducted across India hours after the announcement by the Prime Minister, says Modi’s image and political capital does not seem to have been dented. More than 52 per cent of the respondents said he has taken the right decision.

In response to another opinion whether or not the repeal of farm laws will encourage trade unions and their leaders to oppose changes to labour laws, close to 43 per cent of respondents seemed to agree, however, more than 25 per cent of the respondents could not express any definitive opinion, which means they are uncertain about labour reforms.

Farmer and professor at Madras Institute of Development Studies (MIDS), Prof S. Janakrajan termed it as a great victory for farmers and said, “The government did it only because it was clear that it is weak in western Uttar Pradesh. There are elections soon in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab and hence this was announced.”

Reminding that the farmers’ agitation is not yet over, they are still agitating for minimum support price (MSP), “Government should seriously think about it. The farming community is in great pain. Almost 80-85 per cent of the farmers are small land holding farmers. If they are not assured MSP, they would resort to distress sale.”

“These were the much needed reforms. Repeal of these laws is a politically bad step,” said Dr G.V. Ramanjaneyulu of Centre for Sustainable Agriculture and said, the repeal of these laws may be likened to a precedent but would have wide ranging implications. “It will have an impact on other reforms, possibly now other laws for reforms would be stalled… electricity for farmers, seed bills related etc.”

A senior BJP leader, who did not wish to be quoted, said, “They cannot be calling it a precedent setting decision! We do it only when needed. Didn’t we allow the land acquisition bill to lapse?”

BJP leader Nalin Kohli, however, denied any such thing. “It (the announcement to repeal the three farm laws) is a statesman-like announcement made on the auspicious occasion of Guru Purub. Why would it be a precedent? There is no room to look at it from that perspective. That would be a misreading of the PM’s statesmanlike approach,” Kohli said.

The experts helped with the suggestions that the government can look forward to in order to reign in the chaos. Ramanjaneyulu, for instance, warned how few states would have serious problems unless the Centre resorts to rigorous change in the cropping pattern. “Some of the equity issues would remain unsolved if the reforms are not brought in. There are some states that receive huge subsidies and also witness massive procurement. There are destructive agricultural practices – such as excessive withdrawal of groundwater – that will never get corrected,” he said, pointing towards the situation in Punjab and Haryana.

Janakrajan suggested groundwater recharge as the priority amongst the hard steps to bring in reforms. Almost 70 per cent of India’s irrigation is dependent on groundwater; he said adding, “If there is not enough recharge of aquifers, the agriculture economy will collapse. If farming becomes unviable, farmers will leave it (and then) how will you feed the 130 crore Indians?”

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