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Opinion

The center has not ruled out a law to guarantee the MSP, insinuates Narendra Singh Tomar

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Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said on Thursday that he could not say yes or no to farmers’ demand for a law guaranteeing minimum support prices (MSP), hinting for the first time that the Union government does not rule out that possibility.

“Abhi mein iske baare me haan bhi nehin keh sakta aur naa bhi nehin keh sakta (At this point, I cannot say yes or no to this),” the agriculture minister said in an interview with HT in his office, when he was he asked if the government would even consider the lawsuit.

Farmers’ representatives in their November 13 meeting with Agriculture Minister and Food Minister Piyush Goyal demanded the repeal of three agricultural laws or their modification to prohibit the sale of agricultural products below the MSP set by the government. federal.

“Recent laws have a different mandate. They are of interest to farmers. They deal with marketing and contract farming, etc. The MSP is out of their reach, ”Tomar said.

Farmers in Punjab, Haryana and other states are protesting against a set of laws passed by Parliament in September to open agricultural markets in the country, posing a political challenge to the Narendra Modi government.

On Thursday, police detained hundreds of farmers in Haryana and security was tightened on the Delhi-Haryana border to prevent farmers from entering the national capital, where they plan to hold demonstrations.

The government has defended the recent reforms, saying these changes will bring large buyers, supermarkets and exporters to farmers’ doorstep. However, agricultural unions say the new rules could pave the way for the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices, leaving it at the mercy of private buyers. The government, on the other hand, has insisted that it will continue to buy basic foods at guaranteed prices.

Tomar said the Modi government had increased the MSP for rice by 43% between 2013-14 and 2020-21. He also said that payments made to farmers for the purchase of rice had doubled under the government of the National Democratic Alliance compared to the previous government of the United Progressive Alliance. The total value of MSP paid to farmers for rice rose to Rs 4.34 lakh crore during 2014-19, up from Rs 2.88 lakh crore paid during 2009-14, he said.

“So our commitment to MSP is clear. The procurement system will continue ”, added the minister.

“I want to appeal to our farmer brothers. We are ready to talk about all the problems and resolve the differences. That is why I have invited you again to talks on December 3 ”.

The government sets the MSP for 23 crops, but buys mainly grains from farmers at these prices. This tends to benefit commodity producers. For most other items, farmers get what the markets dictate.

Experts say that a law prohibiting the sale of agricultural products below the MSP makes little economic sense. “If it is not profitable to buy from MSP, say, when demand is low, then the private sector will simply exit the mandi (markets). On the other hand, it is not possible for the government to buy everything in MSP, ”said Pravesh Sharma, a member of the Indian Research Council on International Economic Relations in New Delhi.

“Support for farmers is not in doubt. But support in the form of MSP, which distorts the market, raises questions such as “can we move on to other ways of supporting farmers that cause less collateral damage,” Sharma said.

Analysts also say higher MSPs or acquisitions could lead to increased scrutiny of India at the World Trade Organization (WTO). WTO rules limit government procurement for subsidized food programs by developing countries to 10% of the total value of agricultural production based on 1986-88 prices in dollar terms.

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