Minister of food and consumption Piyush Goyal tells TOI that the government is open to addressing farmers’ concerns, but adds that the amendments are intended to benefit growers across the country. He also says that the movement appears to have been infiltrated by ultra-leftists. Excerpts from a conversation with Sidhartha, Vishwa Mohan and Akhilesh Singh:
Given the stance taken by the farmers’ unions, what is the way out?
If farmers were genuinely led by farmer leaders, there would have been a way out as the government is willing to collaborate with them and is understanding of their concerns. Obviously, dialogue is the only way to find solutions. Sadly, despite giving a guarantee and having your concerns addressed, there really isn’t any issue they’re agitating on.
We have assured you that MSP will continue. We have agreed to ensure that states can impose the same tax on private markets as APMC markets. The government is willing to consider all types of dispute resolution. We have given our written confirmation that the land can never be adjudicated. We have also said that the law ensures that farmers always have the upper hand in selling produce. We have agreed that all merchants must be registered, along with the agreements. The law opens roads without closing anything. It only expands opportunities for farmers by allowing them to sell to whoever they want, where and when they want.
It will enable entrepreneurs to install infrastructure close to their farms, while encouraging farmers to seek value-added products to increase their income. Following the demand for the release of the so-called poets and intellectuals, who face serious accusations, as well as the reports in the media, including his own, it is clear that elements of the left and Maoists have infiltrated the movement. Media reports also suggest that some leaders there have such a track record. They are probably hell-bent on disrupting this movement and creating chaos.
Were you surprised by the decision to bring up the subject of indicted persons under UAPA and did they bring it up sooner?
In the first meeting, there were only one or two sentences, but after that, they never talked about it. Only now do we see people holding banners at the protest site and statements are being made about it. Your concerns appear to be of a different nature, which is cause for concern.
These laws are good for farmers across the country. You saw that Bharat Bandh did not provoke a response anywhere in the country. The trains ran normally throughout the day and we loaded between 7 and 8% more load than on the same day a year ago. It clearly shows that they do not have the support of the farmers, the images we saw on television were of political party activists. Farmers across the country are happy. If the laws were so bad and APMC was the only option for farmers, why Kerala, who has had a left or a Congress government, has not implemented the APMC Law to date? Of the five leaders who went to see the president, two were leftist leaders, who have no presence.
His opponents say there was no proper consultation on the amendments.
These things have been under consultation for almost 20 years. The day we passed the ordinance, one of the peasant leaders said that his father’s soul will rest in peace because it is the same law he fought for some 2,535 years ago. These are demands made by farmers in 201819 through a document called the Kisan Manifesto, which the Bharatiya Kisan Union had tweeted in April 2019 and said that this is a very comprehensive document, detailing problems and solutions to the agricultural crisis. In that, they had said that the abolition of the APMC Law, the Essential Products Law, etc. it should be embraced and supported, whichever party adopts it. From then on, they supported the Congress party. We have not abolished the two laws.
We have opened up opportunities for free trade, which was also an integral part of the farmers’ agenda. Consultations were held with all states and, in general, there was consensus. Sharad Pawarji had written to all the chief ministers, requesting that the model law be adopted, which was in line with the law that we present. Then there was a CM committee, the National Farmers Commission, there have been reports that have focused on what the need is when it comes to giving freedom to farmers. It is unfortunate that some political parties are trying to jump on the farmers’ protest train. I hope farmers see through the design of these items.
Are the demands for repeal of the amendments and a legal framework for MSP non-negotiable?
There are a number of positive aspects of the law. Why should farmers be deprived of the benefits of the laws? The country has to worry about the interests of 10-12 crore farmers. As for the MSP’s legal framework, Congress has been in power for so many years, the Communists have supported so many governments that at no point did they make any effort to make it a legal right. The Modi government nearly doubled acquisitions. The MSP has increased with a cost plus 50% of formula. We are committed to ensuring that MSP continues.
How will the new farm laws increase farmers’ incomes if there is no guarantee that private traders will pay the MSP?
Farmers do not have to sell their products to private actors. The laws provide farmers with an alternative to public procurement in MSP. It does not replace it. Private actors will coexist with public procurement and must offer attractive prices and facilities to attract farmers.
Farmers’ representatives demand the withdrawal of the electricity bill (amendment). How will the government address this?
The government is willing to engage with them and is very understanding of any genuine concerns they have. The government has already said that the bill could be modified to ensure there are no changes to the way farmers pay their bills.
Farmers also have a strong objection to the provision of penalties for stubble burning in Delhi-NCR. What is the government’s plan to address it?
The ordinance was promulgated as part of the government’s assurance to the court to address air pollution in and around Delhi and NCR. The sanctions are primarily aimed at the threat of industrial pollution. The government has made sure to address farmers’ concerns about the criminal provisions.
The farmers’ unions have once again threatened to block the railways. How do you plan to handle the situation?
I call on farmers not to resort to blocking the railways as it causes inconvenience to people, the armed forces, students, MSMEs, farmers and consumers.