There will be competition to give better terms and prices to farmers: Sadananda Gowda

If farmers are harassed or private players take over benefits from them, the government will not keep quiet, says Union Chemicals and Fertilizers Minister

A day after protests in Karnataka against the new farm sector laws, cleared by Parliament and given assent by the President, North Bengaluru MP and Union Chemicals and Fertilizers Minister D.V. Sadananda Gowda highlighted the safeguards in the laws against large corporates exploiting farmers, and the government’s plan to reach out to farmers to explain the benefits of the new legal provisions.

There have been protests in several parts of the country, including your home State Karnataka, against the farm laws.

The opponents have no other issues to come to the streets at present, because the PM has brought all the people together despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Of course, there may be increase in case numbers… but the other issues — giving necessary benefits, incentives for all ordinary persons, including farmers and MSMEs… the PM has taken care of all. Nobody can talk about those issues. The only alternative left is to confuse the farmers.

This is the one sector that has geared up even during the pandemic. Fertilizer sales have grown 40% during the months of the pandemic. Now, they wanted to make this an issue. Of course, it is our duty also to reach out to the farmer and say that after 70 years, you have got the freedom to sell your produce openly. So far, your hands were tied.

Between the passage of the ordinances and the Bills, perhaps the government could have communicated these changes better?

No.. it was in the public domain. But because of COVID-19, everyone was only panicked about the virus for the initial four months or so. We were also busy with assessing ground-level challenges in different States due to the lockdown and the pandemic. But now, we have planned.

On Thursday, I have planned a big outreach beginning with Karnataka Agriculture Minister B.C. Patil. We have asked all our MPs and Ministers in charge of the districts to hold press conferences the next day.

We have asked all our MLAs to do the same. Finally, we want to reach a handbill to each farmer on the benefits from these laws.

When Jan Dhan accounts were started, and some had zero balances, many people laughed. Now, nearly 35 crore people have benefited. This is also like that — the farmer will come to know. And it is our responsibility to inform them and ask them for any corrections they may want.

We don’t have any ego as far as farmers are concerned. As we reach out, if there are some grievances from the farmers, they will tell us.

So is this the government’s official outreach program over the coming month?

Yes, it is through the government and the party as well. All over India, we will do this. Each central minister has been tasked with this for different States. On Monday, the Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar held a webinar with various MPs across the country and the agriculture ministers. There are many new ideas in the larger interest of society. But unless it reaches out to the last man, this will not work. 

We have got 56,000 booth committees in Karnataka. Government makes policy, but government officials can’t reach out to all people on their own. So it is the party’s responsibility to reach out to each house in the booths. That is how they got to know about Article 370 or the Triple Talaq law. So we are reaching out to the people. We want to reach out to all the farmers of the country. That is the order by the party president, even in States like Tamil Nadu, where we don’t have an MLA.  

As we reach out, if there are some grievances from the farmers, they will tell us. 

The farm sector is the only sector to have grown this year. There’s a view that this liberalisation is a way to give some growth opportunities for corporates as industry and services are both contracting due to the pandemic effects. 

I don’t think so. There are specific provisions that private players don’t have much rights to do as they please. Of course, under Indian Contract Act, they may enforce such contracts. But under these laws, the farmers are free from that Contract Act’s provisions. Now, nobody can say we are in the hands of the corporate sector. A company cannot override anybody… they can purchase but the price must be paid to the farmers. I think within a year, you will see the results. There will be competition between mandis and private players on giving better terms and prices to farmers.   

Who will be in charge of dispute resolution, and what safeguards are in place for farmers?

Nobody should take undue advantage of farmers. There are specific provisions that private players don’t have much rights to do as they please.

Under these laws, the farmers are free from the Indian Contract Act’s provisions. A company cannot override anybody; they can purchase and they should purchase for the farmers to get a benefit.

I think within a year, you will see the results. There will be competition between mandis and private players on giving better terms and prices to farmers.

Sale, lease or mortgage of farm land is totally prohibited. Earlier, someone could misuse a farmers’ land because they were uneducated. Now no one can do that. There are safeguards for the farmers. In agreements between a farmer and a private party, the farmer can come out of the contract at any time.

The private firm cannot do that. Even if a farmer has taken an advance from the private player, he can return the principal and exit the contract. If I have a contract with you for selling tomatoes at ₹20 a kg, but the market price becomes ₹30, I can sell it outside for ₹30.

For dispute resolution, State revenue departments will be responsible (along with) sub-divisional magistrates.

Contracts will be bilateral, but if the farmer feels that a player is betraying or undercutting them, he has all options.

With most farmers being small and marginal, will they have adequate bargaining power in negotiating terms of trade and prices with large retail companies?

If you educate them, even a small farmer will stand for his rights.

Now, it’s our responsibility to inform them. There is a specific provision that the Central government may provide a model agreement for facilitation. So everyone will enter contracts in that format and parties cannot go beyond that.

Globally, large companies control around 70% of individual crop markets in some countries, and competitors form cartels to avoid higher procurement prices. Is there any way we have sought to address this risk? 

Ignorance of law is no excuse. If there is a format, and if the sub-divisional magistrate vets the agreement, it has to be followed. If the player wants to make some undue gain, automatically, he cannot go beyond that format. Of course, mandis will have competition from private players, and all State governments will want farmers to do well so they get their votes. So private players cannot have a very major role in the market.   

If a single large player or two captures a particular market going forward, will the government intervene?

Certainly, we will intervene. We hope that the new laws will save the farmers. If there are any instances where farmers will be harassed or private players will take over benefits from farmers’ hands, the government will not keep quiet. It is the responsibility of the government to minimise the middlemen. And even the private sector should play their role but not beyond their limits.

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