Amidst the renewed protests over the historic farm laws, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar recently told the Union government to take the farmers’ protest seriously. He had warned the Centre that the agitation will not be limited to Delhi alone and will continue on a large scale in other States.
“But unfortunately this is not happening. I hope that the government will be wise and take cognizance of the issue to be resolved. If this impasse continues, the protest will not be limited to Delhi, but people from all over the country will stand with the protesting farmers,” Sharad Pawar said.
But it is interesting to note that Sharad Pawar has not always been a critic of the agriculture reforms, as espoused by the Modi government. While the opposition has been actively scaremongering the public about corporatisation and takeover of farming by private players, in light of the new farm laws, Pawar had once been a vocal supporter of introducing private competition in the agriculture sector.
Sharad Pawar on APMC Act and encouraging private players
In an old interview with NDTV, the NCP supremo, who was the then agriculture Minister, is seen explaining how he believed that encouraging private players in the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) can benefit farmers. “We have started with reforms within the APMC Act,” he had remarked. He said that the UPA government was encouraging private players to set up agricultural units, including cold storages.
On being asked whether he believed that the abolishment of the APMC Act would be a key step towards making the market farmer-friendly, he had asserted, “6 states had already adopted it. Another 8 states will be able to (go ahead) with it by January 2006. We are encouraging the State governments to set up modern markets.” He conceded that until private players are encouraged to work in the APMC sector, the government will not provide any financial support to the states.”
शरद काका किस तरह APMC में संशोधन की और Private सेक्टर को बढ़ावा देने की वकालत कर रहे हैं आप भी सुनिए और समझो किसान बहाना है राजनीति चमकाना है ! #FarmersWithModi @blsanthosh @PMOIndia @narendramodi pic.twitter.com/3t9ccqRYIp— Shehzad Jai Hind (@Shehzad_Ind) December 6, 2020
Sharad Pawar wrote letter to Delhi CM Sheila Dixit in 2010
In 2010, Sharad Pawar wrote to Delhi CM Sheila Dixit and emphasised about the need for ‘private sector participation’ for setting up ‘well-functioning markets.’ He had stated, As you are aware, the agriculture sector needs well-functioning markets to drive growth, employment and economic prosperity in rural areas of the country. This requires huge investments in marketing infrastructure including cold chain. And for this, private sector participation is essential, for which an appropriate regulatory and policy environment needs to be in place.”
He had highlighted the importance of amending the State APMC Act to encourage private players in creating ‘competitive marketing channels’ so as to benefit the farmers as well as the consumers. Sharad Pawar emphasised, “In this context, the need to amend the present State APMC Act on the lines of Model State Agricultural Produce Marketing (Development & Regulation) Act, 2003 to encourage the private sector in providing alternative competitive marketing channels in the overall interest of farmers/producers and
consumers cannot be overemphasized.”
Letter of Sharad Pawar to MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan in 2011
A year later, the NCP supremo had written another letter, highlighting about the need for marketing infrastructure, post-harvest investments and cold-chain logistics. “You will undoubtedly agree that the agriculture sector needs well-functioning markets to drive inclusive growth, employment and economic prosperity in the rural area of the country. This requires investments in post-harvest and marketing infrastructure including cold-chain logistics from the farm gate to the consumer, ” he wrote.
Sharad Pawar stated, “The private sector needs to play an important role in this regard. An appropriate regulatory and policy environment, therefore, needs to be in place for the purpose.” Reiterating the need to amend the APMC Act on the lines of Model APMC Act 2003, he stated, ‘”I am sure that this will mean reduced intermediation costs and post-harvest losses as well as the enhanced supply of the produce and greater farmer share in consumers’ price.”
While urging Shivraj Singh Chouhan to implement the proposed amendments, he had added: “In this context, there is a need to amend the present APMC Act on the lines of Model APMC Act 2003 in order to encourage private sector investment in marketing infrastructure and providing alternate competing marketing channels in the overall interest of the farmers, consumers and agricultural trade.”
After Sharad Pawar’s previous stand goes viral, NCP offers clarification
Clarifying Sharad Pawar’s stand on the issue, the NCP has stated, “Model APMC Act 2003 was introduced by Vajpayee govt. However, many state governments were reluctant to implement it at that point of time.” The party has further added, “As agriculture minister, Pawar tried to form a broader consensus among State Agriculture Marketing Boards by inviting suggestions for implementation of the Act. The benefit of farmers as per the model APMC Act was explained to various state governments &many governments came forward to implement it.”
NCP has further written, “The new farm bill has raised several doubts & insecurity in minds of farmers regarding MSP & other issues which the govt has failed to address. Modi Govt couldn’t form broader consensus & has failed to satisfy legitimate apprehensions of the farmers & entire opposition.”
As agriculture minister, Pawar tried to form broader consensus among State Agriculture Marketing Boards by inviting suggestions for implementation of the Act.Benefit of farmers as per model APMC Act was explained to various state govts&many govts came forward to implement it: NCP https://t.co/r86WGNv2os— ANI (@ANI) December 7, 2020
It is, however, not clear why, when now the Modi government has given the freedom to farmers from the restrictions of local APMCs and introduced provisions for them to be paid adequately when selling their produce to private players, the opposition is hell-bent on opposing the reforms. The current government has also made it abundantly clear that they are neither abolishing Mandis nor taking back MSPs.
In fact, the government has made its stand abundantly clear. It has been addressed and readdressed several times. NCP’s ‘clarification’ rather sounds like they are trying to say that the government should have waited for the ‘opposition’ to agree with them before passing laws in a parliament where they rule with an absolute majority.
The new farm laws
In September 2020, the Central Government announced three new agriculture sector reform laws named Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance, and Farm Service Act, 2020, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020. The main aim of these reforms is to provide a better platform for the farmers to sell their produce.
Simultaneously, several clauses protect farmers’ rights on how they want to sell the crop, timely payments, and more. Despite several clarifications by the Central government that the MSP provisions will remain as is, opposition parties have repeatedly indulged in spreading misinformation and accused the government of trying to end MSP provision. PM Modi had come down heavily on the parties opposing the farm laws on September 18 and said those who had kept farmers tied to restrictions for decades are now lying about agricultural reforms.