The government should not make the farmers’ protest venue a factor in engaging with them, as farmers from Punjab and Haryana in large numbers crowd the outskirts of Delhi, to protest against the three recent farm laws that promise to change the contours of farming for the better.
The prime minister was spot on when he noted, in his monthly radio address to the nation, that every party has contemplated such legal changes to improve the lot of farmers. All the more reason to meet up with farmers’ unions and explain the rationale behind the changes and assure them that farmers would be no worse off as a result of the change to the legal framework of agri-trade in the country.
Farmer unions are different from political parties that oppose reforms because they are not the ones to implement them. There are two reasons for urgency in settling the dispute. One, thousands of people milling around in close quarters is a Covid threat of major proportions. Not just participants in the protest but their families, friends and associates are at risk and those who, in turn, interact with them.
Two, the recently released data on second quarter GDP growth brought out an anomalous feature of the ongoing recession: even as the economy is tanking, prices are on the upswing, contrary to prices and economic growth moving in the same direction in the normal course. Supply disruptions and movement restrictions on produce are part of the reason for this development.
Farm prices are a major determinant of monetary policy in India, and it would be most unfortunate if undue rigidity in negotiating with farmers led to the choking off of a variety of farm produce, a spike in food prices, pushing up the consumer price index that guides monetary policy and, in consequence, elevated interest rates at a time when growth revival calls for lower rates. Further, the Centre should refrain from kneejerk measures such as banning onion exports, if it wants to sound credible when it says that the market orientation of farming would raise farmers’ incomes.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Economic Times.