The Congress party, which has backed the farmers’ agitation against the new farm reform laws, on Wednesday clarified its stand on private players entering the agricultural trade and said it was never against corporates procuring produce from farmers.
Speaking to News18, senior Congress leader Randeep Surjewala, who himself is a farmer, said, “Let me reiterate that let all industrialists come in, that let all private players come in and buy food grains at MSP.” “Where do you think all the flour in the market is coming from?” he asked, and pointed out that when one buys flour from private sector, “they are themselves buying it from farmers at MSP”.
This makes it clear that the Congress has no objection to private sectors playing a key role in the farming sector. However, he added a word of caution and that for farmers to benefit from the laws, there should be ample competition in the market.
“If a farmer is getting Rs 19 per kg for flour and you buy for say Rs 30 per kg, then who is benefitting? So if there are only one or two buyers then prices may shoot up,” he said.
The government, to dispel the fears of the protesting farmers, has repeatedly made it clear that this scenario would not materialise as the government’s umbrella of protection would remain despite the push for liberalisation.
Several Congress leaders have opposed the farm reforms, saying that the new laws would end up benefiting only the corporate sector. This has earned the disapproval of experts, who have pointed out that that the laws protect farmers and MSP would remain intact.
The Congress has also faced accusations that it was standing against modernisation and much needed reforms in the sector, particularly because its own 2019 general elections manifesto had pledged reforms in the agriculture sector.
Recently, union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said the Congress was showing “double standards” as the repeal of the APMC Act was part of its 2019 manifesto. Contract farming also started during the Manmohan Singh government in many Congress states, the minister had said.
The farm reforms introduced by the central government permit, for the first time, trade in agricultural produce outside the APMC regulated mandis. Private mandis can be set up across the country where anyone can buy produce from farmers.
The government has said that this is designed to provide farmers with more choices on who to sell their produce to, and more buyers will lead to a better price for the farmers.
Congress, which has always taken pride in the fact that it pushed liberalisation and reforms in the country right from the days of Rajiv Gandhi to Dr Manmohan Singh, had been put in a contradictory position by opposing private player entry in the farming sector.
The party was being accused of being going too far left, and the clarification issued by Surjewala would come as a relief to pro-reform voices within the party as well.