In Centre-farmer talks, on table before 2nd round: stubble fine, MSP, power subsidy

Written by P Vaidyanathan Iyer
| New Delhi |

Updated: December 3, 2020 6:55:59 am

Farmers gathered at New Delhi’s Singhu border.

As the Centre prepares to sit across the table with 35 farmer groups at 12 noon in Vigyan Bhawan on Thursday for the second round of discussions, it may be willing to address certain issues, some not necessarily linked to the farm laws, which the farmers’ representatives expressed anxiety over.

In the first round of talks held Tuesday, farmer groups were worked up about a new law that came into force through an Ordinance on October 28. The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Ordinance, 2020, farmers said, may end up imposing a penalty of upto Rs 1 crore or a jail term of up to five years or both for stubble burning that harms air quality in NCR. “This is an aspect which can be addressed,” said a source in the government who did not wish to be named.

As things stand now, farmers have taken a maximalist position and are unyielding on their demand for scrapping the three laws, and hardwiring the MSP (Maximum Support Price) into the law itself. The government, on the other hand, believes these laws will unshackle farmers, and allow them to sell their produce anywhere, including any private market, and not just the designated mandis.

The Central government is, however, open to talks and has asked the farmer groups to write down their reservations on each of the three laws. Till 5 pm, the government had not received their specific objections to the clauses in the three laws.

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The government will also underline its commitment to continue with the procurement process as it was before June 5, 2020, when the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020, was issued. There are worries that the market fee paid by the Centre or its agencies and the quantum of procurement may be reduced over a period of time.

Another issue the Central government may be willing to review relates to the dispute resolution mechanism as provided for in the law on contract farming i.e. the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020.

The rules notified under this Act provided only for a government officer-led dispute resolution, which farmers fear may be biased. “The government can consider allowing civil courts as a recourse for farmers,” said the source.

A big concern for farmers also stems from the proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020. Farmers fear the central idea behind the Bill is to do away with subsidies, and that they will start receiving bills for electricity consumed in farming activities.

The government, however, contends that the Bill does not even broach the issue of doing away with subsidies but the idea is to state upfront the extent of cross-subsidisation to help determine rates for different sets of customers.

However, farmers are not convinced. They feel once the extent of subsidy is known, they will have to pay it only to be reimbursed by the state government later on. “We have to assure farmers this is not the case,” the source said.

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