Members of SC panel on agri laws pro-govt, won't appear before it, says farmer unions

Members of SC panel on agri laws pro-govt, won't appear before it, says farmer unions
Farmer leader Darshan Pal Singh from Punjab with others addresses a press conference during ongoing their agitation against new farm laws, at Singhu border in New Delhi, Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2021. PTI

New Delhi: The four members of a committee formed by the Supreme Court on Tuesday to resolve the deadlock over farmers' agitation against three farm laws - two experts and two farmer leaders - have been known as pro-reforms in the agriculture space, while Congress party and agitating unions flagged their direct support for the contentious Acts as well in the recent past.

While staying the implementation of the three new farm laws, enacted in September last year, till further orders, the apex court announced the panel.

Bhupinder Singh Mann, President of Bhartiya Kisan Union; Anil Ghanwat, President of Shetkari Sangthana, Maharashtra; Pramod Kumar Joshi, director for South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute, and agriculture economist Ashok Gulati have been named in the panel.

However, agitating farmer unions have said they want a complete repeal of the laws and they do not want to appear before any committee.

"It is clear that the court is being misguided by various forces even in its constitution of a committee. These are people who are known for their support to the three Acts and have actively advocated for the same," a statement issued by All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) said.

Addressing a press conference, Congress' chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the party welcomes the Supreme Court's concern over the farm laws, but the party has issues with the composition of the committee formed by it.

He said the members of the committee have already expressed their views in the past favouring the new laws "so the question arises in our minds that how justice will be done to farmers by their hands".

"All the members of the committee constituted by the Supreme Court have already supported the agricultural bill," Congress party's Madhya Pradesh unit tweeted while tagging newspaper articles written by Gulati and Joshi and also news reports quoting Ghanwat and Mann speaking against the repeal of the laws.

Ghanwat said on Tuesday the new farm laws partially implement what his outfit has been demanding for decades. His attempt will be to improve them, he said, while coming out in support of reforms including permission for contract farming.

"We are not lauding the Centre's three acts that are described as giving freedom to farmers. It was the Shetkari Sanghatana headed by late Sharad Joshi which had pressed for these changes first," Ghanwat, whose organization has been accused of backing the Centre on the issue despite representing farmers, said.

"Now the current government has tried to implement them to some extent. My role in the committee will be to protect the interest of farmers and improve these laws," he said.

Sharad Joshi, an economist who had worked with the World Bank, founded the Shetkari Sanghatna in the late 1970s. Among other things he wanted freedom for farmers from restrictions on sale and export of produce.

The other three members of the panel - Gulati, Mann and Joshi - could not be reached for their comments with some of them having switched off their phones.

Gulati is an eminent agriculture scientist and he received Padma Shri award in 2015 for his contribution in this field. He was the youngest member of the Economic Advisory Council of the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee during the first NDA regime.

He is currently Infosys Chair Professor for Agriculture at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER).

Gulati was also Chairman of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) during 2011-14 period. Before becoming the Chairman of the CACP, which advises the government on fixing the minimum support price (MSP), he was a director at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) for more than 10 years (2001-11).

At present, Gulati is on the Central Board of Directors of the RBI, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) and commodity exchange NCDEX. He has written 15 books on Indian and Asian Agriculture, besides several research papers.

Pramod Kumar Joshi is the director for South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), New Delhi.

Earlier, he had held the positions of director of the National Academy of Agricultural Research Management, Hyderabad as well as the National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research, New Delhi.

Previously, Joshi was South Asia Coordinator at the International Food Policy Research Institute and senior economist at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Patancheru.

Farmer leader Bhupinder Singh Mann is the national president of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU), which is part of the All India Kisan Coordination Committee. He was Rajya Sabha member from 1990-96.

In a statement issued on December 14, the Agriculture Ministry had said Mann-led AIKCC members submitted a memorandum to it in favour of the farm acts.

However, some eminent agriculture economists welcomed the court's decision to stay the implementation of the laws and set up the committee.

Former Union minister and economist Y K Alagh said he thinks it (the SC's decision) is very sensible.

"Because they (the SC judges) have said that you (the Centre) must do adequate preparation because the new farm laws were passed in a big hurry," Alagh told PTI.

Another eminent economist and former Planning Commission member Abhijit Sen said, "I think it is good. It (the SC) has stayed it (the Centre's new farm laws)."

Mahendra Dev S, professor of economics at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research (IGIDR) also said, "That's a good suggestion (the staying of new farm was by the SC)."

BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli said any order of the Supreme Court has to be complied with by all the concerned parties.

KS Legal & Associates Managing Partner Sonam Chandwani said the committee is part of the judicial process in this case and farmers' unions cannot refuse to be a part of it.

"It (the court) highlighted the difference between judiciary and the politics and asked the farmers to cooperate with it," she added.

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