New Delhi, January 19: Under attack from protesting unions for their “pro-government” public stand on three contentious farm laws, members of a panel set up by the Supreme Court to resolve the crisis said on Tuesday they will keep aside their own ideology and views while consulting various stakeholders, even as they indicated a complete repeal won’t augur well for much-needed agriculture reforms.
A key committee member and president of Maharashtra-based Shetkari Sanghatana, Anil Ghanwat said the farm sector reforms are much needed and no political party in the next 50 years will ever attempt them again if these laws are repealed.
He, however, added the panel will listen to all farmers, including those supporting and those opposing the laws, and accordingly prepare a report for submitting to the apex court.
He also said that the laws implemented in the last 70 years were not in the interest of farmers and about 4.5 lakh farmers have committed suicide.
“Farmers are getting poor and are under debt. Some changes are needed. Those changes were happening but the protest began,” he added.
After their first meeting here, Ghanwat said the first round of consultations with farmers and other stakeholders has been scheduled for Thursday.
Noting that the “biggest challenge” is to convince the protesting farmers to appear before the panel, Ghanwat said they will be still given a priority as the panel wants the long-running protest to end at the earliest.
Agri-economists Ashok Gulati and Pramod Kumar Joshi are the other two members of the panel who were present in the meeting.
The Supreme Court had set up the four-member panel on January 11 to look into the contentious three farm laws, against which thousands are protesting on Delhi borders for almost two months now. But one of the members, Bhupinder Singh Mann, later backed out of the panel.
Separately, nine rounds of talks have taken place between the government and agitating unions without any concrete resolution, while the tenth round is scheduled to be held on Wednesday.
Thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh, are protesting on Delhi borders for almost two months against the three laws enacted in September last year. They have alleged these laws will end the mandi and MSP procurement systems and leave the farmers at the mercy of big corporates, even as the government has rejected these apprehensions as misplaced.
Briefing media after their meeting, Ghanwat said, “In today’s meeting, we have decided to hold our first meeting with farmers and other stakeholders on January 21 at 11 am. We will meet both physically and virtually depending on the convenience of farmers.”
Besides farmers, the panel will seek views of farmers’ bodies and other stakeholders such as farm exporters, traders, millers, ginners, dairy and poultry industry on the new farm laws, in addition to the central and state governments, he said, adding that a website will also be launched to invite suggestions.
“The biggest challenge is to convince the agitating farmers to come and speak with us. We will try our level best and we will definitely want to speak with them,” Ghanwat said.
It is not clear as yet whether an apex court-appointed panel can meet the protesting farmers at their place if they don’t appear before us, but the committee members wish to meet them and try to convince them, he added.
On protesting farmers’ allegations that the panel members were “pro-government” and have openly expressed their support for the three laws in the past, Ghanwat said, “It is their view. Whatever might have been our earlier ideology, now we are on the Supreme Court-appointed panel. We cannot be one-sided.”
“Panel members will keep their personal views on farm laws aside while preparing a report to be submitted to the Supreme Court. …Our duty is to listen to both sides and not impose our ideology,” he said.
The committee has been appointed by the Supreme Court and it is up to the apex court whom to appoint, he said on whether any replacement would be made for Mann.
Gulati said all members of the panel are “equal” and ruled out the appointment of a chairman of the panel.
He said whatever are the best views and the collective wisdom of the committee on the farm laws, and also views of farmers and other stakeholders, that need to be collated and put in a proper framework and communicated to the Supreme Court.
“That’s what we have to do. That’s our prime job,” Gulati said.
Joshi said “Our views may be different. When a responsibility like this is given by the court, we have to work in an unbiased and transparent way. In the report, we cannot give our views and that is very clear.”
He also said the committee is hopeful of completing the report within two months, as directed by the Supreme Court.
Ghanwat said, “We have been given a responsibility and we will fulfill it properly. We want to request those farmers who don’t want to come before us that we are neither from any party nor from the government side. We are from the Supreme Court side,” he said.
“People are dying in the cold. We don’t want this (protest) to continue not because of any political reasons but I am a farmer and I have been agitating for so many years too. When lives are lost in agitation, it is very disappointing and heartbreaking,” Ghanwat said.
Ghanwat said his own organisation was also not fully in favour of the laws and it wanted some changes.
“But, if the laws are repealed, no party that will come to power in the next 50 years will ever show courage to attempt to bring these reforms again. Farmers will continue to die. If we want change, come and talk to us. We will try to fully deliver what you want,” he said adding that reforms are needed to end the exploitative system in the agriculture sector.
“To bring these changes, cooperate with the committee… We are one. I am also a farmer leader. To help Punjab farmers, many times I mobilised thousands of farmers from Maharashtra. There is no rivalry. We had an ideology, now it is not there…,” he said and added there will not be peace in the country when farmers are not able to live happily. (PTI)