Punjab farmers lock horns with Centre over MSP panel

The Punjab Sanyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) laments that among those included in the central government committee on MSP are supporters of the three contentious farm laws which the government was forced to repeal after a year-long farmers’ agitation, writes Rajendra Khatry

The exclusion of farmers’ representatives from both Punjab and Haryana in the recently announced Union government’s MSP committee is brewing discontent in the farmer organisations of both the states. Farmers are also angry that the government is again not ready to guarantee MSP on their crops which has been their long-pending demand. If not addressed on time, the vexed issue has the potential to lead to another round of farmers’ protests in Punjab as well as Haryana in the coming days.

Punjab is acknowledged as the food bowl of the country along with Haryana. Farmers of both the states staged a successful year-long agitation demanding repeal of the three contentious agricultural laws and the Union government finally bowed down to their demands last year. At that time the government promised the farmers to form a committee on MSP which has been done now. But the non-inclusion of the representatives of the farmers from Punjab and Haryana has raised the hackles of farmers as well as the politicians across the states.

Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Mann has urged the Central Government to reconstitute its newly-formed committee on MSP (Minimum Support Price) giving due representation to the state. The Chief Minister wrote separate letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and urged them to get the committee on MSP reconstituted as the panel has no representative from Punjab.

Earlier, the Union Government formed a committee on MSP, nearly eight months after it promised to do so when the year-long farmers agitation ended. Mann slammed the Union government for ignoring Punjab while constituting the committee for recommending Minimum Support Price (MSP) for crops. He called it a discriminatory move. Mann claimed that the stiff resistance by the Punjab farmers to the draconian three agricultural laws last year had unnerved the central government.

“Without the Punjabi farmers’ representation, the committee is like a body without soul,‘’ said Mann. He charged the central government of settling political scores instead of aiming at farmers’ welfare. Punjab is the main food grower of the country. How can it be kept out of the MSP committee, he wondered.

Similarly, AAP’s Rajya Sabha member Raghav Chadha feels discussions must be held in Parliament during the Zero Hour on the MSP committee for farmers. He said it is ironic that Punjab, which gave the suggestion for forming the committee on MSP is itself out of the panel now.

Punjab’s political leaders believe that MSP is the legal right of the farmers and if the union government wants that the farmers should be benefitted, then Punjab farmers should have been included in the committee.

According to SAD leader Daljit Singh Cheema, the Union government should recast the committee and include stakeholders, representatives from Punjab as well as agri-experts. Cheema said there’s a need to not only finalise the MSP guarantee but also the guarantee of assured purchase on the MSP. He said the Central government had earmarked MSP for all crops, but why is that only wheat and paddy are being purchased on MSP? These issues need to be addressed urgently, he said.

It is not just AAP and SAD who are upset by the non-inclusion of the Punjab farmers in the MSP committee, the Congress also felt the central government’s committee on MSP was an ‘eyewash’.

The Congress too demanded the government to recast it. Punjab Congress chief Raja Warring stated that the key demand of the farmers was a legal guarantee for the MSP for various crops, but while setting the terms of reference, there was no mention of a legal guarantee for the MSP. Warring said it was a betrayal of the farmers in the country as they had lifted their year-long ‘dharna’ only after they had been assured that a committee will be constituted which will also look into a demand for legal guarantee for the MSP.

Meanwhile, to protest the non-inclusion of farmer representatives from Haryana in the MSP committee, the Haryana Sanyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) announced a Chakka Jam in Haryana on July 31, according to the decision taken in the national meeting of the front. It was decided to block the major roads for four hours across the state the same day.

The SKM stated that preparations would be made for the farmers’ stir by holding district level conferences in all the districts till July 30. They said that the farmers had demanded a legal guarantee of minimum support price, which was not even mentioned in the notification of the formation of the committee.

The Morcha leaders regretted that those who have been included in the central government committee on MSP have been long-time supporters of the three contentious agricultural laws brought by the government earlier. The farmers argued that these members cannot be expected to protect the interests of the farmers.

Meanwhile the Punjab SKM, a joint group of  farmers’ organisations which spearheaded the more than year-long  protest against three contentious central farm laws, said it has no plans to send three representatives to join the Union government’s 29-member panel.

Resenting the government committee, Krantikari Kisan Union president and SKM coordination committee member Dr Darshan Pal said that their fears came true after they read the names of the committee members. Five representatives of farmers’ unions supported the farm laws while the SKM was given only three spots. Many others are government officials. It seems it will be pro-government members versus three SKM members. Sending members will create more confusion as they will hardly have any say in the committee, feels Darshan Pal.

The MSP panel announced by the union government is headed by former Agriculture Secretary Sanjay Agrawal and also has representatives of the Central government and state governments, farmers, agricultural scientists and agricultural economists. The five alleged pro-government farm union leaders in the committee are Gunwant Patil, Krishna Veer Chaudhary, Guni Parkash, Syed Pasha Patel and Pramod Kumar Chaudhary.

Looking at the growing controversy over the MSP committee to make agriculture progressive and be able to face future challenges, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar invited the SKM members several times to join the committee and give their suggestions which will be discussed. He said the MSP committee was formed on the announcement of the Prime Minister.

Tomar said the committee is represented by farmers, economists, members of Niti Ayog, representatives of the government etc. He said the forum was still open and the SKM could send names of its representatives any time. But in reply, the SKM said there is no provision for talks now because the committee has included those pro-government people who formed the three vexed farm laws.

The farmers claimed the committee will only be a suggestive one and not an implementation body. Recommendations will remain just on paper and will not be implemented, feels the SKM. No legal guarantee for the MSP has been promised by the government. The committee has been formed to hoodwink the farmers, charged the SKM.  Faced with stiff opposition the government finds itself in a quandary even as the deadlock continues.