Lack of clarity on mandis failed farm laws: Montek Singh Ahluwalia

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The real problem with the recently repealed farm laws was that the government could not successfully douse the farmers’ doubts regarding mandis and the intentions of the corporate sector, said former deputy chairman Planning Commission of India Montek Singh Ahluwalia.

“The real problem is on mandis. Suddenly, there were many suspicions doubts about the corporate sector, which is (synonymous to) cronyism nowadays. If India was to be a major economy, let us assume and let it be clear, it is going to have large Indian corporatism. If you are going to say the presence of a large Indian corporate means (it is) a sign of cronyism, you are condemning India to be backward but that is how politics works,” Ahluwalia replied to when asked about farm laws and reforms in agriculture during a webinar lecture series ‘The Conversation’ organised by Ahmedabad University Friday.

“Farmers somehow seemed to have been convinced that this is a design to throw them at the mercy of one or two large corporates. The government has expressed that they do not intend to abolish the mandis but that should be made clear,” he added.

Emphasising the need to modernise farm laws, Ahluwalia called for the abolition of the Essential Commodities Act. “There are three different farm laws here. The first is the Essential Commodities Act. I do not even call it a farm law but a retail control law. It should be abolished. I am glad it was. Having abolished the Central Commodities Act, putting export control on onions and so on, did not make much sense. It is a pity that it got rolled up in the controversy,” he added.

On the contract farming law, he said farmers are not forced to have contracts and the state governments should be encouraged to define whatever rules they want on contract farming and let them do it.

He noted that adequate discussions were not allowed on farm laws, despite modernisation of agriculture on the agenda for long. “This restart of the debate can lead to some sensitive decisions in this area. We should retain the decision with the state rather than a universalisation by the Centre. There is nothing wrong having states compete and some states not eager to join,” he suggested. About the agricultural reforms during the UPA regime, he said, “We were more concerned to do better in agriculture and the focus that time was more on investments into agriculture, using MNREGA to improve the water management in agriculture. Some of those initiatives did help along with providing remunerative support prices and all. Together, during the UPA period, agriculture performance did improve significantly compared to the previous 5-6 years.”

Highlighting the need to spend more on health, he said the government needed to strengthen the state-level system with personnel and payments. “We will get out of the pandemic, you have to assume that. We are behind vaccination targets but by the middle of the next year, a very large number of population would have been vaccinated. The fear would be low,” he said.

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