New hopes of resolving the important issues raised by the farmers emerged on December 26, with both sides agreeing to restart of talks, after stalemate- like conditions had emerged following the breakdown of the earlier round of negotiations. Now this new opportunity of resolving the stand-off should be clinched, with the new year beginning on an optimistic note for the country. Hope and happiness are more important than ever before in these difficult times.
The responsibility of bringing this hope and happiness is now more on the government side. It had erred in the initial phase at several stages of bringing new laws in undemocratic way, a fact admitted even by government representatives and allies, and even after negotiations started after the blockade of Delhi the government and the ruling party have not been honest towards farmers, at one level the Agriculture Minister thanking them for their discipline and at the other level some other BJP leaders using very hostile language and making very unfair insinuations. This could have been easily avoided, particularly when democratic negotiations have to restart and it is important to build confidence and trust.
Anyway this as well as other unpleasant memories can be left behind by both sides to reach a quick settlement. The issues are not at all difficult to resolve, if there is a sincere desire for a fair settlement and the problems created by a false sense of prestige are avoided. In a true democracy people’s victory is government’s victory as well, and this is the spirit with which the government should now approach the new talks. Let the government remember that even after erring so much it can still salvage a lot of goodwill for the ruling combine by an early and satisfactory settlement, with the protesting farmers going back to their homes happily.
What are the main issues? A stage has been reached when the need for repealing the three controversial farm laws is now well established, with many eminent experts, also known for their concern for public interest in the past, also coming out in support of this key demand of farmers’ movement. The government has already admitted that a number of important amendments in these laws are needed. Why then stand on false prestige of persisting with these terrible threesome which have done enough mischief already. Take them back.
Secondly, the MSP or minimum support price issue. There can be broad-based agreement that while maintaining the procurement of wheat and rice at MSP at present levels, the government must in the near future greatly increase its MSP-based procurement of other crops, particularly millets, oilseeds and pulses. Some increase in MSP can also be agreed to. But beyond this farmers should not press much more on this issue, taking care to avoid any unreasonable demands.
On the issue of punitive provisions for paddy residue burning, there should be agreement on avoiding penal provisions but farmers show real sincerity in resolving all environmental issues, with the government also showing understanding in providing due help.
On the issue of electricity amendment bill care should be taken to avoid any undue burden on farmers but at the same time farmers should extend full cooperation in conserving water and checking any further depletion and pollution of basic water resources.
On the basis of reaching such common understanding of basic issues a settlement should be quickly reached without further delay.
This should be followed by a very wide discourse in country on evolving a food and farming system based on justice, equality, protection of environment and biodiversity and compassion for all forms of life.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Protecting Earth for Children and Planet in Peril.