New Delhi: Months after the farmers spent protesting against the impracticality of the farm laws approved by the Centre, a group of top economists appealed to the Union agricultural minister Narendra Singh Tomar to repeal the laws in contention.
“We believe that the Indian government should repeal the recent Farm Acts that are not in the best interests of small and marginal farmers and about which a broad section of farmer organizations has raised very critical objections,” said 10 economists of universities across the country, in an open letter.
Though the economists agreed with a need for reforms in agricultural marketing, they said that the laws do not serve the purpose.
“They are based on wrong assumptions and claims about why farmers are unable to get remunerative prices; about farmers not having the freedom to sell wherever they like under the previously existing laws and about regulated markets not being in the farmers’ interests,” the letter states.
The group includes retired professors D. Narasimha Reddy (University of Hyderabad), KN Harilal, (Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram), Kamal Nayan Kabra (Indian Institute of Public Administration and the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi) among several other prominent ones.
The economists listed the following five reasons as to why these laws are ‘fundamentally harmful’ for the small farmers:
- The laws undermine the role of state governments, which are far more accessible and accountable to farmers’ interests than the central government. “This process (of implementing farm laws) can be handled with more sensitivity and responsiveness by the state government, rather than through a blanket legislative change at the central level,” they wrote.
- They create two markets with two rules — “a practically unregulated market in the ‘trade area’ side by side with a regulated market in APMC market yards, subject to two different acts, different regimes of market fees, and different sets of rules”. This is already causing regulated farmers into unregulated space, the economists said.
- Even prior to the three laws, a large percentage of agricultural commodities sales were carried outside APMC markets. However, APMC market yards still set benchmark prices through daily auctions and offered reliable price signals to farmers. The experts said that these price signals prevented fragmented markets with only one buyer.
- The laws bring in unequal players in contract farming, so farmers’ interests are not protected, the letter notes. “The current scenario is likely to continue, where most of the contract farming happens through unwritten arrangements with no recourse for farmers, and most arrangements are made through aggregators or organizers to protect companies from any liability,” it says.
- And finally, the laws bring in concerns about domination by big agricultural businesses, the professors said.
Further, the economists said that amending the clauses in the new laws would not be sufficient and urged the government to withdraw them. They added that farmers’ genuine concerns should not be portrayed as them “being misled”.
“The current impasse is not in anyone’s interests, and it is the responsibility of the government to proactively resolve it by addressing the farmers’ concerns,” the letter states, adding that it would be the truly democratic thing to do so.