REFORM PANGS
Business Today|December 13, 2020
State laws may delay progress of Centre’s agri-marketing reforms, but won’t be able to halt them
JOE C. MATHEW

144.52 MILLION TONNES

Estimated production of food grains during the 2020-21 Kharif season, a likely record

On November 13, representatives of 29 farmer organisations from Punjab met two Central ministers at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi. Minister of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare Narendra Singh Tomar and Railways Minister Piyush Goyal were trying to find a solution to the protests that have been going on since the last two months against three recent Central laws that liberalised agricultural goods trade in the country. The agitation had left Punjab, the epicentre of the protest, in a state of chaos. Farmers blocked rail tracks, but the railway ministry refused to restore goods train services citing security issues, even after protestors had cleared the tracks. As a result, outflow of food grains from the state, and inflow of goods (fertilisers, coal and essential goods) into Punjab remained stuck. The seven-hour-long meeting was expected to find ways to resume rail traffic, and pacify the agitators, but nothing happened.

No other state had seen protests similar to Punjab, but farmers across the country, especially from states where non-BJP parties are in power, feel the new Central laws will jeopardise income security. The protests received support from three Congress-ruled states — Punjab, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh — where governments passed laws to nullify the effect of the Central legislation. With other nonBJP ruled states such as Telangana, Maharashtra and West Bengal also looking to explore similar options, the Central government's decision to call farmers to the negotiating table made sense.

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