By Prabhudatta Mishra
While the political broadside against the new farm laws continues unabated, the government has decided to wage a strong, orchestrated counter-campaign. While senior government functionaries, including the prime minister, have repeatedly assured farmers that the new laws would help increase their income and won’t undermine the APMC mandis or the minimum support price (MSP) operations, a detailed plan has now been chalked out, to reach out to farmers through various central government agencies and state government officials and local leaders.
Under the plan, agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar will write letters to over 2.6 lakh sarpanches (head of panchayats) and gram pradhans (village heads) articulating merits of the laws and also dispelling the notion that mandis would be closed, sources said. These letters will be in English, Hindi and major regional languages. The panchayati raj ministry has already shared the data of grass-root level leaders who will spearhead the campaign, with the agriculture ministry
“The minister (Tomar) is taking care of the political management since opposition parties have made it political issue. He is personally involved in this outreach programme implementation,” an agriculture ministry official said requesting anonymity.
Besides, the agriculture ministry has identified 197 master trainers (MTs) from among officials of both Central and state governments who will hold online meetings though webinars to reach out to farmers directly. Some of these MTs were imparted an online training on October 9 in which joint secretaries in agriculture ministry P K Swain and Vivek Agarwal made detailed presentation about the provisions in the laws and also answered questions of the participants, the sources said.
“If required, these MTs will also enrol some Sub-master trainers (SMTs) to compliment the efforts so that the message is reached at the earliest,” said the official quoted earlier.
More such training programmes will be conducted for the MTs and SMTs depending on how they are conducting the webinars at the grassroots, the official said. The agriculture ministry has created a cell to monitor the performance of these MTs and SMTs.
As there is objection to the new laws from many opposition ruled states, the agriculture ministry has already pressed into service its own officials and also staff of its own institutions like National Institute of Agricultural Marketing (NIAM) and National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE) for the outreach programme in those states.
Since June 5, the day the Centre promulgated three Ordinances reforming the country’s agriculture marketing (these were replaced by legislations passed by Parliament in the monsoon session), mandis have seemed to gradually lose their market shares in many areas. Some economists have said even as the APMC mandis have an archaic and exploitative trait, farmers in many regions have a “symbiotic relationship” with the mandis and the middlemen who control the APMC system.
With the furore over the new laws governing marketing of agriculture produce threatening to erode its political capital, the Narendra Modi government seems to be slowing the pace of, if not abandoning, the all-important subsequent reforms in the sector. Top government officials on October 7 had asserted that the policy of open-ended procurement (OEP) at minimum support prices (MSPs) would continue. Senior government functionaries have been assuring the farming community that the recent reforms won’t undermine the MSP system nor mandis would be closed.
Meanwhile, farmers leaders of Punjab walked out of a meeting with union agriculture secretary Sanjay Agarwal on Wednesday demanding they would like to meet Modi and Tomar to discuss their demand. Agarwal had to postpone the October 8 scheduled meeting after the protesting farmer leaders rejected his offer of talks. The Modi government while on the one hand has deputed union ministers and BJP leaders to mobilise opinion in favour of the new laws, also on the other kept an official channel of discussion open as agitations in many places of Punjab and Haryana continue.