“It is important to ensure that while the specific laws may no longer exist, the reform impulse that was reflected in these laws is not diluted,” says Anil Ghanwat, former president of the Shetkari Sanghatana in a letter to the Supreme Court about the three farm laws which the government has decided to repeal.
Ghanwat was a member of the three-person expert committee which the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Sharad Bobde had set up on 12 January to study and report on the new farm laws. It gave its report on 19 March. On 19 November, giving in to farmers who were on a year-long protest, the Prime Minister announced that the farm laws would be repealed. When appointed to the committee, Ghanwat was President of Maharashtra’s reform-minded Shetkari Sanghatana. He is now President of the Swatantra Bharat Party, which seeks to espouse the free market.
The three laws pertain to trading in agricultural produce, regulation of contract farming, and removal of stockholding limits.
Ghanwat has sought the Supreme Court’s permission to release the report. In the letter, he makes a case for less regulation of the farm sector. He says government intervention has choked the production and marketing efforts of farmers. Much of the regulation (like land reforms) has been parked in Schedule 9 of the Constitution, beyond judicial scrutiny. Government policies like minimum support prices for wheat and rice have harmed both farmers and the environment, he says. According to him, farmers are “desperate for renewed, not less, focus on reforms – particularly market freedom and technology freedom.
In Ghanwat’s view, farmers opposed the three farm laws because the government did not consult them. They opposed the process of enactment, not the content of the laws. He has requested the Supreme Court to direct the government to “develop and implement an exemplary, robust policy process of the sort that is followed in the developed nations.”
Such a policy review would require establishing a committee with representation of all views. The committee would prepare a White Paper that considers costs and benefits of options, consults widely, and recommends a way forward. The legislation resulting from such a process would be acceptable to India’s farmers.
Ghanwat says the committee’s recommendations, which are based on wide consultations, are of great public interest. He has sought the court’s permission to publish the report as it would make farmers at large aware that a minimally-regulated market in agricultural produce is in their interest.
(Photo of Anil Ghanwat, above, by Vivian Fernandes)