Three out of four members of the committee set up by the Supreme Court to facilitate talks between the Centre and farmer unions have been vocal supporters of the government's new farm laws, an analysis of their recently-expressed views shows.
The committee includes Bhupinder Singh Mann of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, Anil Ghanwat of Shetkari Sanghatana, Dr Pramod Kumar Joshi and agricultural economist Ashok Gulati. The panel members have been given the task of attempting to find an amicable solution between the Central government and farmers who have been protesting since the end of November. Out of these four, Mann is only member who has not expressed broad support for the new laws. Mann, too, has supported the implementation of the laws, but with some amendments.
Following are profiles of each of the four members, and an overview of what they might bring to the discussion table.
Gulati is an agricultural economist who was awarded with the Padma Shri in the year 2015. He is an Infosys Chair Professor for Agriculture at the India Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER).
For 2011 to 2014, he was the head of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP). The panel recommends minimum support prices of various crops to the government, and is attached to the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare.
Gulati has been one of the most prominent supporters of the new farm laws among agricultural experts. In May 2020, when the laws were still in the consideration process, he compared them to 1991 liberalisation of the Indian economy in an article for The Indian Express. He wrote that the proposed "changes can go a long way in building efficient value chains and ensuring better returns for farmers. The consumers will also be ensured better products without burdening their pockets."
However, in a more recent article for The Indian Express, titled To help farmers, right approach is through Farmer Producer Organisations, not APMC mandis, he advised the government to be prepared to given a written guarantee that the existing system of APMC markets and MSP will continue and be strengthened. "... The government can also give in writing that the contract will be for the produce, not the land," he wrote.
Bhupinder Singh Mann
Bhupinder Singh Mann is a former Rajya Sabha MP, and is presently National President of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) and Chairman of the All India Kisan Coordination Committee.
The BKU is among the organisations that have taken part in protests against the new farm laws.
Mann has worked as a farmers' leader since 1966, when he became a founding member of the Farmer Friends Association. He also helped form the All India Kisan Coordination Committee (AIKCC), a platform which aims to bring together various state-level farmers' organisations.
On 14 December, 2020, a group of farmers' organisations, under the banner of the AIKCC, had handed over a memorandum demanding that the three laws be implemented, but with some amendments. According to an article in The Hindu, the amendments proposed by the organisations were aimed to ensure that judicial recourse is ensured, and that there is a level-playing field created between private and state-run markets. Mann had also sought a written guarantee that minimum support prices (MSPs) will continue
Dr. Pramod K. Joshi is a former director of South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), New Delhi. He earlier held the positions of the director of the National Academy of Agricultural Research Management, Hyderabad, India, and the director of the National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research, New Delhi.
Joshi has strongly opposed giving a legal backing to minimum support prices, and has advocated contract farming as a 'win-win situation' for all stakeholders.
An article in the Financial Express, co-authored by Joshi with AK Padee, says, "The farm-agitations' demand to repeal the three farm laws and legalise minimum support prices (MSPs) baffle us, given the apprehensions over the impact of the laws on the farmers are mostly misplaced."
On MSPs, MoneyControl quoted him as saying, "MSP is a process where rice and wheat is procured by the government for a month during the season. There are dedicated mandis who do the selling and purchasing. It is not the government's job to sell and buy. That used to happen in Socialist countries decades ago where the government fixed prices of food grain. It is the market that determines prices."
Anil Ghanwat is the president of the Maharashtra-based Shetkari Sanghatana which has been backing the government in the entire agitation by farmers.
On 24 August, 2020, members of the Shetkari Sanghatana across several districts in Maharashtra submitted letters addressed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi Modi at the local tehsildar's office, welcoming the farm bills. The organisation even took the streets and burst crackers to show its support for the laws.
An article in The Print quoted Ghanwat as saying in December 2020, "There are many groups like us that are in support of the farm laws. The problem is that the Centre didn't take farmers into confidence while drafting these laws. Neither did it ask the farmers in support of them, nor those opposing. In fact, more needs to be done than just these three laws."
The organisation is also said to be planning a loose front of all groups 'in favour of such liberal changes to farm laws.'
The Shetkari Sanghatana had also refused to support the Bharat Bandh that was called by various farmers' groups to oppose the new farm laws.
The organisation has, however, proposed some amendments to the new laws. It has demanded that the government must allow states to decide about APMCs and contract farming. Further, it has also said that states should be authorised to make their own laws about the functioning of APMCs, cess and development of mandis.