Union Minister Nitin Gadkari spoke exclusively to The Daily Guardian about the massive farmers’ protest taking place at Delhi’s borders against the new farm laws and how the Modi government only intended to benefit farmers. Excerpts:
Q: The farmers’ protest has been going on for 23 days now. How is the government going to deal with this?
A: We are ready to have a point-by-point discussion with farmers over the new laws. Whichever points the farmers feel is not to their liking or will harm them, we are ready to even change that.
There are two major points of misunderstanding here: our Constitution has fundamental rights in it, so should the farmers also not have the option of selling their crops wherever they want? About 18kms from Nagpur, I have farmland where we grow crops. Earlier today, I sold the crops for the first time since the law came in. Before, we had to pay middlemen an 8% bribe. Now, I sold my crop directly in the Pratapgarh market, which gained me 8-10 rupees of extra earnings per kilo and cut out the bribe to the middleman. It is my fundamental right to sell my wares where I want. When we go to buy anything anywhere, we pay the price selected by the seller, but when farmers go to sell, they can’t sell at the rates they want. Even the APMC system is being continued, so the farmer can sell wherever he wants to and gets the best price. Is this not in the favour of the farmers? All of what is happening is a ploy to confuse the farmers.
Let’s talk about contract farming, the farmer doesn’t have money for tilling the land, he doesn’t have money for seeds or for fertilizer and the land is lying idle. Now someone comes and says, ‘we will provide you with everything’ and during the harvest, they split it in half with the farmer. What’s wrong in this? Or if someone says, ‘whatever comes, we’ll pay you a certain amount, regardless of the crop’ – how is any of it turning into a loss for a downtrodden farmer who had nothing to begin with? If you use a taxi aggregator service, you pay the fare, but do you own the car? Of course, not. Records will show that the land belongs to the farmer.
There are misunderstandings being created and the way forward is with talks, in which we are ready to change anything the farmers are unhappy with. Now even the SC is intervening and I’m sure something will come out of that as well.
Q: If everything is good about the farm bills, then why are such massive protests taking place? Why are the farmers saying that the bills have to be taken back completely?
A: There are many aspects to the bills. Is everything anti-farmer? Is 100% of it wrong? Let’s sit down, talk point-by-point and understand everything. If there’s anything wrong, we will change it. This entire matter shouldn’t be politicized. Security and welfare matters should not be politicized. Political leaders have the right to do politics, but using this opportunity to play politics is absolutely wrong.
Q: Even the SC asked the government if the laws can be put on hold until a committee can come to a conclusion. Is there a section in the government discussing it?
A: The government is putting its stance forward in front of the SC and there are talks underway for reaching solutions with the farmers. Commenting on inside dealings would not be correct at this point.
Q: Rahul Gandhi tweeted asking how many farmers have to die before the government will wake up.
A: In the last six years, we have raised the MSP every annum. This did not happen during the UPA government. What right does the Congress have in talking about this? The Central government goes through many stages to set the MSP and today we are seeing that the MSP is higher than the price of the crop. When we set an MSP, we have to buy it at that cost. You can see that we are buying the crop at that very price, despite the market, and extending benefits to the farmers. Our government is for the welfare of the farmer and we will work towards it.
Q: On Thursday, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar wrote an eight-page letter where he detailed the myths and facts of the issues which are creating fears in the minds of farmers. This letter has been tweeted and re-tweeted by a number of ministers. But the farmers are saying that these are a bundle of lies created to confuse them by the government.
A: The matter is in the Supreme Court. I trust the court in the matter. Let the court examine the matter and bring out the truth. I have nothing more to say in the matter. How can you wake up people who are acting as if they are asleep? The media should discuss the three laws and I will explain everything. We are ready for discussions.
Q: The farmers say that issues like MSP and APMC should be incorporated. They also want to know why these rules can’t be repealed.
A: The declaration of the MSP is done through a notification. The government is legally bound to abide by it.
Q: ASSOCHAM and CII have written a letter saying that there have been massive losses because of the protests. Even you wrote a letter to Punjab CM Capt Amrinder Singh about the massive losses faced in toll taxes. Have you gotten a reply? Or is the government coming up with some way to deal with this?
A: We have done what we can. Now the SC is discussing the matter and I’m sure a solution would be found there.