Interview: G.V.L. Narasimha Rao

G.V.L. Narasimha Rao: 'The farm Acts are a veritable gift to farmers'

Print edition : October 23, 2020

G.V.L. Narasimha Rao. Photo: V. RAJU

Interview with G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, Member of Parliament from the BJP.

G.V.L. Narasimha Rao, Member of Parliament from the Bharatiya Janata Party, has been defending the government on the controversial Ffarm Bills, in the Rajya Sabha and on television channels. Excerpts from his interview with Frontline.

Despite the BJP’s repeated promises to implement the Swaminathan Commission report on farmers, we do not see that promise fulfilled.

The Swaminathan Commission report was submitted in 2006. The UPA [United Progressive Alliance] governments did nothing to implement its main recommendations. It was our government that implemented the main recommendation of the Swaminathan Commission that the MSP should be at least 1.5 times the cost of cultivation of a crop. To implement this recommendation, we effected big increases in the MSP of all crops. The MSP hike in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tenure, from 2014 to 2019, compared with the hike in the UPA-II tenure… paddy MSP has been increased by 2.4 times, wheat 1.7 times, pulses 75 times.

The spirit of the present legislation draws heavily on the Swaminathan Commission recommendations. Consider the following observations on the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, and State APMC acts:

“6.5.5 Amendment to Acts/legal instruments: The Essential Commodities Act and other legal instruments including the State Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee Acts [APMC Acts] relating to marketing, storage and processing of agriculture produce need to be reviewed in order to meet the requirements of modern agriculture and attracting private capital in this sector. (page 13, Swaminathan Commission report, Volume 3)

“3.3.4.4 The monopoly of APMCs has meant that the private sector including cooperatives have not been able to contribute in establishing and developing mandis. The provision of the APMC Acts in different States requires modification to create a lawful role for the private sector in the marketing development. (page 143, Swaminathan Commission report, Volume 3)

“…allowing private players including cooperatives to establish private mandis will be a major step in providing an alternative to the farmers and could lead to higher return to the farmers” (page 145, Swaminathan Commission report, Volume 3)

“The demand-supply balance and the economic environment have changed in recent years but the restrictions and controls are continuing and coming in the way of efficient functioning of the marketing system. Many of the provisions under these control orders are now outdated and have to a certain extent adversely affected the potential of private sector initiatives and consequently agricultural development in the country” (page 133, Swaminathan Commission report, Volume 3). The commission report adds: After watching for a few years and being satisfied that under the changed environment it is possible to tackle even emergency situations with market operations, it may be possible to scrap the Act altogether. Scrapping the ECA, 1955, or placing it under suspended animation would also make various control orders issued under it redundant.

Farmers across India, especially in Punjab and Haryana, are agitating against the new laws. How will the government assuage their concerns?

The new agricultural laws constitute the biggest agricultural reforms ever as they seek to liberate farmers from the clutches of the exploitative trade. Middlemen who have profited from restrictive trade practices are the main agents stoking these protests. To expose the baseless lies being propagated in order to stoke fears among gullible farmers and to explain the far-reaching benefits to farmers from the new legislative regime, Members of Parliament and leaders of the BJP are spanning across the country for a nationwide outreach effort over the next few weeks.

The opposition has accused the BJP of pushing ahead with the three Bills in an undemocratic manner.

It is the opposition that has acted in the most shameful and undemocratic manner, bringing disrepute to our parliamentary democracy by their condemnable blockade in the Rajya Sabha. We will tell farmers that opposition parties have connived with middlemen and attempted to block Bills giving farmers freedom to sell to anyone, anywhere, without in any manner disturbing the present APMC mandi or market yard system.

Minimum support price is not mentioned anywhere in the new laws. Farmers worry that prices may fall drastically. Farmers are also worrying that the APMCs will become redundant under the new regime. Has the government lost this perception war?

Both arguments are specious and dubious. On MSP, the Narendra Modi government has shown its commitment by record procurement. Consider this: in five years under UPA-II from 2009 to 2014, total procurement was of the order of 2.05 lakh crore, while under the Modi administration, it went up to 4.95 lakh crore, an increase of nearly 250 per cent.

Second, APMC market yards, or mandis, operate under APMC State laws, and our Act clearly states that they will continue to operate as such and the new law will operate only outside the physical boundaries of APMC market yards and sub-yards which function under APMC Acts passed by respective State Assemblies. We will tell farmers about the sheer hypocrisy of the Congress party, which is now claiming great virtues for APMC market yards. The same party, in its 2019 Lok Sabha election manifesto, had promised that, if voted to power, it would repeal the State APMC Acts and shut down APMC market yards.

The Akali Dal has quit the National Democratic Alliance over the farm Bills. Do you expect this issue to snowball into a political storm?

This is a storm in a tea cup. These protests are based on fake propaganda and hence won’t last long. Like many other “manufactured protests”, this will also blow over in a matter of a few days.

With private players encouraged to join the sector, how will the interests of small and marginal farmers be protected against big corporates?

Every provision in the three [pieces of legislation] protects only farmer interests. These laws are a veritable gift to farmers by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The new laws will foster greater competition and will give them better returns for their produce. Agreement of buyer-corporate is only with the produce grown by farmer and it prohibits the buyer from having any lease, mortgage or ownership rights of the land. Farmers are also assured a guaranteed price as the buyer-corporate is obligated to pay the mutually agreed guaranteed price for the produce even if market prices fall.

States worry about a drop in their revenues. They say that agriculture is a State subject and the Centre should not be forming laws about it.

Parliament is fully empowered to pass these pieces of legislation. Trade and commerce in, and the production, supply and distribution of all agricultural commodities and select industrial products is a subject in the Concurrent List. APMC market yards will continue to operate under the purview of State governments and thus their revenues from the levies imposed in these market yards will not be affected. State governments need to ponder whether they should be taxing the farmers in this manner as the taxes/ cess/fees collected by market yards actually are costs imposed on the farmers as they bear the brunt of these levies.

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