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'If you want to catch a rat, you can't burn the house'

By SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF
September 29, 2020 13:39 IST
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'Crony capitalism will gain due to these Acts.'

IMAGE: A farmer works on his his field on the outskirts of Jammu. Photograph: PTI Photo

Amid the nation-wide protests against the newly-enacted farm laws, the Congress member of Parliament from Thrissur, T N Prathapan, moved the Supreme Court on Monday, September 28, challenging the constitutional validity of various provisions of the contentious new legislations.

Prathapan has alleged that the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 is violative of right to equality (Article 14), prohibition of discrimination (Article 15) and right to life and liberty (Article 21) of the Constitution.

"These three laws are going to help only the corporate sector who will dominate the farm sector in the future," Prathapan tells Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com.

What is your reason for moving the Supreme Court against the government's farm laws?

I am doing it because they passed this bill in Parliament the wrong way, especially in the Rajya Sabha.

After that they did not even show empathy for the protesting farmers.

In a country like India, where agriculture is a very sensitive sector, such legislation cannot be passed as 80 per cent of India's population is directly or indirectly dependent on agriculture.

These three laws are very inter-connected and are going to help only the corporate sector.

They will dominate the farm sector in the future.

Don't you feel farmers should have the freedom of choice to sell their products, which these laws grant them?

Farmers are committing suicide every year because they are in debt.

Their lives are miserable.

After this act, some corporate will approach farmers and provide them with infrastructure support and facilities which they will find hard to refuse.

You see, the dispute mechanism of this Act is a big problem.

If there is a dispute between corporate and farmer, what will happen?

They will approach a third party, and that is the sub-divisional magistrate who is the final authority according to these laws.

If this sub-divisional magistrate goes against the farmer, then he cannot go anywhere to appeal.

Therefore, I am saying there has to be an agriculture tribunal where farmers can go, just like the labour court.

A corporate entity like ITC has worked with farmers in Madhya Pradesh, and in a very successful manner. Farmers are happy with ITC. Why don't you see the bright side to these laws?

Legalising corporate farming will make farmers slaves in their own fields. It is possible.

This is very worrying.

After a point if companies tell farmers their product is not of high standard, then where will they go?

Who is the third party to intermediate?

Will this third party take farmers's interests into account?

Do you believe corporates will not cheat farmers?

If the ITC model is already working, then why do you need a new law?

They are legalising contract farming.

This law is destroying federalism.

For example, if Kerala does not agree to genetically modified seeds to be sowed, then they cannot refuse, thanks to this new Act.

The central government has snatched the fate of state governments, and for the benefit of who?

For the benefit of corporates.

Moreover, another concern is that if these companies bring genetically modified seeds, then the land in the states will become infertile in, say, 10 or 20 years.

States can invoke Article 254(2) of the Constitution which allows state legislatures to pass a law to override a central law. Isn't it?

When the CAA (Citizenship (Amendment) Act) came, state governments refused it but up to what point can state governments refuse?

Now the CAA is an Act.

Parliament has passed it and the President too has approved it.

This is a big concern for our democracy.

It is a possibility that state governments will protest, but there is a possibility that things will go the way the central government wants, as they are superior.

Moreover, why is the government not mentioning minimum support price in the Act?

You are talking against corporate farming, but in a state like Kerala where you come from, there is no APMC even.

Kerala has become a consumer state and the concerns of agriculture states like Punjab and Haryana are very different.

If you go to mandis like Okhla in Delhi today we do not know what is the undercurrent of farmers's mood over there.

APMC helped the Green Revolution.

According to the National Sample Survey data, more than 50 per cent of farmers do not sell their product through the APMCs. Farmers are already selling their products outside the APMC.

We said in our Congress manifesto that we will increase the number of APMCs.

There were rules and guidelines for that in our manifesto.

I believe if we encourage liberal market policies in agriculture markets, it will lead to inflation in food items.

Corporates will store food products as much as they want.

A new harvest comes after every six months and India is already food surplus. Who can store so much food, and where?

The point is, why the is the government stepping aside from these responsibilities?

From food storage, from APMC, from MSP.

The government must set up more APMCs and if farmers are being cheated by commission agents then they must solve that problem.

If you want to catch a rat, you cannot burn the house.

If you want to increase storage facilities, then the government should increase it.

It is not good to hand over all that to corporates.

You sound like you are living in the Socialist era. The world has changed.

My counter-question is, what world are we living in?

That is the point.

We are thinking like a capitalist economy.

What will happen in a capitalist economy?

Who will gain?

The answer is: In a capitalist economy businessmen gain, not farmers.

I am afraid that we are heading towards British Raj as crony capitalism will gain due to these Acts.

We should have a special agriculture farmers tribunal.

We have labour court and consumer court, so why not an agriculture farmers tribunal?

Farmers can easily approach that as this tribunal will be exclusively for them.

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SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF / Rediff.com
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