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Farmer organisations refute Prime Minister’s comments on Kerala with hard facts and fix December 29 for the seventh round of talks

Published : Dec 27, 2020 11:35 IST T+T-
Farmers protesting on the Delhi-Meerut expressway at Ghazipur, Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border, on December 26.

Farmers protesting on the Delhi-Meerut expressway at Ghazipur, Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border, on December 26.

On December 26, as the farmers’ agitation against the three farm laws entered its 31st day and the government refused to back down on their demand for repeal of the laws, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha responded to the government’s overtures for discussions and suggested December 29 for the talks. There have already been six rounds of talks with the government.

In response to the Joint Secretary’s letter of December 24, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, representing 40 farmer organisations, expressed regret that he had obfuscated facts and tried to mislead the nation. “You say that the government wants most respectfully to listen to the farmers but if that is the case, then please do not make wrong statements regarding the issues that were discussed in the very first meeting with the government and desist from using government machinery to defame the farmers,” the letter said.

The letter also specified a four-point agenda for the suggested meeting on December 29. These are: modalities for the repeal of the three farm laws; mechanisms to be adopted to make the remunerative MSP as recommended by the National Farmers’ Commission into a legally guaranteed entitlement for all farmers and agricultural commodities; amendments to be made and notified in the “Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance 2020” to exclude farmers from the punitive provisions of the Ordinance; and changes to be made in the draft Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020 to protect the interests of farmers. “Farmer organisations have always been ready for discussions with an open mind,” said the letter.

At a press conference at Singhu, one of the main protest points, farmer leaders expressed disappointment with the comments of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his December 25 address. Apart from farmer leaders from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, those from Maharashtra, Gujarat and Maharashtra were also present.

Balbir Singh Rajewal, president, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajewal), told the media that it looked as if the government was afraid of the farmers. “We don’t expect the government to lie. Narendra Modi can say untruths, But the Prime Minister shouldn’t. The government has not disclosed to the nation the discussions they’ve had with us on the laws. Let me clarify. We never asked for amendments, but a repeal of the farm laws. We have sent the government a letter today with an agenda for discussion. They should prepare themselves to discuss those points now,” he said.

Shiv Kumar Kakka, president, Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh, told mediapersons that it was the Modi government that had informed the Supreme Court that it was unable to implement the Swaminathan Commission recommendations on the MSP in 2015. “Today the Prime Minister is saying that the government has implemented the Swaminathan Commission’s formula. It is a blatant untruth. The letters sent by the government to us and the Prime Minister’s speech are not conducive for an open discussion on the farm laws,” he said.

Harjinder Singh of the Azad Kisan Sangharsh Committee said that if the government did not agree for a repeal, then farmers in their tractor-trolleys would move towards Tikri on the Kundli-Manesar Expressway and head for Shahjahanpur on December 30. “If the highways get blocked because of this, Modiji will have to take the blame. It is best that the issue is resolved before the year-end. Otherwise next year won’t be an easy one for the BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] government,” he said.

Prime Minister’s ‘ignorance’

A day after the Narendra Modi hit out at the Left parties and said that Kerala did not have Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMC), the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) responded by saying that the Prime Minister’s statements reflected his ignorance about Kerala. “Either he is being misled by his advisers or is deliberately resorting to deceit,” it said. Kerala, said the AIKS, did not pass an APMC Act in its State Assembly, along with many other States such as Manipur and Jammu and Kashmir, because the cropping pattern was dominated by plantation crops and spices.

Commercial crops are grown in 82 per cent of the cultivated area in the State. Cash crops like coconut, cashew, rubber, tea, coffee and spices like nutmeg, pepper, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom are grown by the farmers there and these crops have their own specialised marketing channels sponsored by the commodity boards under the Ministry of Commerce. The prices for these crops are dependent on world market prices and “except for copra, the Central government did not even announce any MSP” for the crops grown in Kerala.

Even though these crops fetched good foreign exchange, successive Central governments had diluted and dismantled the commodity boards. The boards were starved of funds and were not adequately staffed. The India-ASEAN free trade agreements entered into by Congress and BJP regimes at the Centre had led to dumping and price crashes. In 2006, the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government set up a Debt Relief Commission that halted the spate of suicides that had occurred in Kerala. The LDF government, stated the AIKS, had stood by the farmers when prices crashed and, with the help of co-operatives, aided in value addition and marketing. “The extent of marketed surplus of other crops like paddy or fruits of vegetables was never significant enough to require large and regulated wholesale markets like the Mandis under the APMC Acts. This does not mean that there are no agricultural markets with specified rules and regulations,” stated AIKS.

The letter also mentioned that Kerala procured paddy at Rs.2,748 a quintal, which was Rs.900 more than the Central MSP of Rs.1,848 for paddy. The Kerala government had recently announced a royalty of Rs.2,000 per hectare for rice cultivators, spread across 2.05 lakh hectares in the State. The government had also announced the base prices for 16 vegetables, including tubers, making it the only State to have done so. The State gave subsidies for different crops. For paddy, it was Rs 22,000 per hectare; for pulses it was Rs.20,000; for tapioca and tubers, Rs.30,000 and a similar amount for bananas. Local self-governing institutions also provided various subsidies. The Prime Minister, the AIKS said, “should first try to match these steps and answer why the commodity boards were being rendered ineffective” and why the Central government was entering into free trade agreements without consulting State governments.