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Willing to Risk Contempt of Court to Release Report on Farm Laws: SC Panel Member Anil Ghanwat

Anil Ghanwat, one of the members of the Supreme Court-appointed panel on farm laws, in an interview to CNN-News18, says he was “shocked and completely taken aback” by the announcement of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the repeal.

Ghanwat said the biggest takeaway from the report by the SC-appointed panel would be the changes suggested to the Essential Commodities Act, and the judicial process for conflict resolution, which is there in the three contentious farm laws. “There is a major change in the dispute settlement process that was mentioned in the laws.” He also said the report has suggested more freedom should be given to states “in some cases”.

He also stressed that the panel has been urging the Supreme Court to make the report on farm laws public and it should not lie in cold storage. He even said he would have to go against the court and “disclose” it.

“Farmers have been misguided, misinformation has been delivered to them, which is why the agitation came up,” he added. The report should be widely discussed, including in Parliament he stressed.

Here is the interview:

When you heard the news that the three controversial farm laws will be repealed, were you taken aback or were you aware that the government could be thinking of repeal of laws as an option?

No, it was very shocking. I was completely taken aback. It was a very unfortunate decision to hear for the farmers and for the country. The government should not have stepped back at least this way. They should have discussed with some people — farmers or supporters. It should have come into the press that they are at least thinking of doing so. Then, they should have taken notice of the response of the farmers. This type of shock treatment was not expected.

Why do you think the Prime Minister took such a decision? Because the government has tried hard to convince the farmers and had made it clear that they are willing to consider any demand short of a repeal. What forced the government to take such a decision?

It is good that this government had the political will to do reforms. But the agitation, which dragged on for more than a year, has created a pressure and now with the forthcoming elections, the pressure has multiplied. If this situation would not have resolved, I am not very sure, they might have thought that this would harm their popularity in states especially in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, they will lose the most. So, to avoid that damage, I think, they might have repealed the laws. I hope after the elections, they form a committee and restart the effort to carry on with the reforms.

What will be the fate of the panel’s report that is lying in cold storage in the Supreme Court?

I don’t know. Only the Supreme Court knows what will be the fate of the report. Today, the status is that it is dumped. We are trying to make it public. We are requesting the honorable Supreme Court that it should make the report public or allow us to make it public. So, we are trying to surface the report but God knows what will happen to it. Maybe, I’ll have to risk the contempt of court and release it.

Are you willing to do that?

I will have to wait. I will have to give enough time to the apex court. And if it is necessary, if the conditions deteriorate even further, then I will have to do it for the sake of the farmers, for the sake of the country.

There were three members in the panel. Is the report that you submitted to the court unanimous or is there some dissent?

There was consent of all three, they were together. Everybody has contributed in that. And we have a consensus for each and every word in that report.

What is that one big takeaway from the report that you have submitted to the Supreme Court?

You are trying to pull out information from me about the report. The biggest takeaway would be first, it is about the essential commodities act amendment, and second is the judicial process. There is a major change in the dispute settlement process that was mentioned in the laws.

Have you mentioned the changes to the law in your report in these two cases?

Yes. We have mentioned changes in every law — Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC), contract farming, essential commodity amendment. But these are the major changes, which you can expect.

Is there any mention in your report of leaving the final decision to the states on whether they want to adopt these laws? Is there any suggestion of giving freedom to the states?

No. It is not about accepting or rejecting the total report or whatever the law is made after accessing this report. It is about some facts where states may be allowed to do on their own.

Will states be allowed to not abide by certain provision in the laws if they choose to do so?

They have the liberty in regard to some cases. In some procedures, they can do it on their own. This report does not compel the states to do this or that. This is a guideline for the state. It is like a model act type of issue. Each state has to be given liberty because each state has a different kind of terrain, climatic condition, crops, cultures, everything is different and you cannot impose MSP (Minimum Support Price) for crops all over India similarly. If any state wants to promote a certain crop, suppose, a state wants to promote oilseeds, another wants to promote pulses, they must have the liberty to give on their own. If they have to procure from other states or import, they must have the liberty to promote their farmers, subsidise their farmers and give an MSP for that crop even if it is not in the list.

So, has the panel decided to give states the liberty to take their own decision even after the laws have come into being?

Up to some extent.

‘To some extent,’ Can you elaborate?

Actually, many states have taken it (those decisions). Contract farming is actually in process in 15 states, de regulation of fruits, flowers and vegetables (is happening) since 2006. Twenty-one states have given the permission to sell outside of mandis.

If the state decides not to deregulate, does it have the freedom to do that?

People of the state will decide whether to accept that or not. Other states are enjoying the freedom and if a state is not allowing, farmers will naturally revolt.

But the panel has given the freedom to state not to de regulate if they so decide?

It is not complete freedom because there are certain cases, which cannot be avoided. For instance, transportation. If I am from Maharashtra and have to sell my wheat in Odisha and the states in between don’t allow the transportation of wheat from their states so that can’t be done. So, we have certain restrictions, no restrictions actually on such activities. They have the power to support the farmers, not to regulate them.

I am a bit confused. In your report, do the states have the freedom to either abide or reject the laws? Does the state have the discretion?

For example, the Essential Commodities Act, they have to abide by that. It is a central law. No state can say that these commodities, which have been removed from the list, will have regulation in our state… But if a state wants to give MSP for a crop that is not on the list, they have the permission to do that.

Can the state decide not to give an MSP?

Yes, they can do that.

Were you not able to reach out to the protesting farmer unions, especially the ones, which were not represented? Do you think it is a drawback when it comes to your report?

That is not our fault. We had requested them. Telephonically, we have called, we have sent messages, we have sent WhatsApp messages. I have personally called some of my friends who are sitting out there. They said they would not be meeting the committee; it is the decision of SKM (Samyukt Kisan Morcha). And nobody turned out. And those who turned up, we heard them too. they said we don’t want to say anything, we just want a repeal, we have noted it down. It is not our report, it is not our view. It is what the majority has said. The majority of the people we have interacted with have given their views and we have structured the report according to that. They are not our views.

What do you think are the demands of farmers now, especially regarding the MSP?

The legal MSP cannot be delivered. It cannot be implemented. The country does not have that kind of financial coffers. After having an open-ended procurement, we so not have the system to dispose of the material which has been procured. We don’t have the infrastructure to store the procured material and each crop farmer will start demanding an MSP. For instance, if I am an onion farmer, I will say onions need an MSP, potatoes need an MSP too, and so do milk, eggs and chicken. Everybody will come up with their demand and how far can the government procure all the material and what will it do with it. There will be crisis. There is going to be a havoc.

Do you feel that there will be some sort of a breakthrough between the protesting farmers’ unions and the government if the laws are repealed in Parliament?

Now, these farmers are bent upon showing their power. They are going to create some row and only after that whatever the consequence is the future of the agitation will be decided. I cannot say anything today. But I think, the farmers’ major demands have been fulfilled. They should go home and if they have some demand then the SKM can come and talk to the government and sort the issue amicably sitting across the table. They need not stay on the roadside indefinitely.

What future do you see for the report of your panel? How would you want that to be put to use?

The report will come out. The Supreme Court will take it up in the next hearing, whenever the matter is listed or we will have to wait for some time and then maybe we on our own will release the report. I don’t mean that our report is 100% correct but there may be correction required. We welcome them but whatever suggestions, recommendations we have given, they should come in front of farmers because they have been misguided, misinformation has been delivered to them, which is why the agitation has come up. Whenever our report is delivered to the farmers they will think over it and they may come in support of it or they may demand a squash of the report. We will see whatever happens. But the material in the report should be discussed. It can be debated in Parliament and new laws should be made after discussions and then it should be given the structure of law.

Are you thinking of releasing the report before Parliament session begins next week?

No, it is going to take time.

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Source: News18