Sompal Shastri was the Agriculture Minister in the government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He has also been the chairman of the National Commission for Farmers. Comes from a strong Jat family of West UP. In the 1998 Lok Sabha elections, Chaudhary reached the Lok Sabha by defeating veterans like Ajit Singh. Although he is no longer in the BJP, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar first met Sompal Shastri when farmers took the path of agitation over agricultural laws. National Political Editor of NBT
Nadeem Sompal Shastri I wanted to know that what can be the way to resolve the stand on agricultural laws and how this movement is affecting the politics? Here are the main excerpts:
There is already a standoff between farmer organizations and the government over the demand for the withdrawal of agricultural laws. Now where do you see the current movement going from the Lakhimpur incident?I don’t think this movement is moving towards a solution. One reason for this is the dogma of the government. The second is a crisis of trust between the government and the farmers. Its background begins with the 2014 election campaign, when the BJP made several big promises in favor of farmers, one of which was to implement the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission. BJP also got its advantage in the election. But on coming to the government, he gave an affidavit in the Supreme Court and said that it is not possible to do this with the existing financial resources. When the 2019 elections were about to come, he announced that the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission have been implemented. The game is that Swaminathan has spoken of adding 50 percent to the cost of the C2 level, with the government adding a level down to A2+FL. Another announcement in 2016 that farmers’ income would be doubled by 2022. But government data says that the real income of farmers has decreased by 35 to 42 percent in 2020 compared to 2013.
The current controversy is over the new agricultural laws. Farmers’ organizations want the law to be returned. The government says that the points of the law on which there are objections, tell them, we are ready to remove them. How can this impasse be resolved?I have been a minister in Atalji’s government. In the cabinet meeting, it was not necessary that whatever Atal ji liked, the same thing should be spoken or there was no discussion at all. There are many examples that the opinion of Atal ji used to be different in the cabinet, the opinion of the ministers was something else, but there was open discussion and a new path came out of that discussion. Despite his opinion being different, Atal ji used to accept the right opinion. Now I understand that the tradition of mutual discussion and consultation has come to an end. So how is there a way out?
Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar met you when the farmers’ movement started, what advice did you give him?I didn’t talk to him in secret. What I have been saying from the public forum, the same was told to him also. First, when the farmers are not finding these laws in their advantage, then why force them? Secondly, the commodities for which the government declares the support price, it should also ensure to get the price to them. More importantly, till now only 22 commodities which are stockable have declared support price but their contribution is only 30 per cent in the GDP of agriculture. 70 percent are perishable commodities like fruits, vegetables, milk, poultry whose prices crash the most. There should also be a minimum price for these. Constitutional status should be given to the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices so that its recommendations are binding on the government.
The government says that the opposition to the agricultural laws is not from the farmers, it is only of some politicians. Is politics being done on this issue?It is wrong to say that there is no farmer in the movement. This movement could not have lasted this long had farmers not been involved. Now talking about politics, then who started politics on this issue? It was the government who started it. There was not even a wait for the House to enact the law. An ordinance was brought stating an extraordinary situation. It is also a fact that till now farmers have not given place to any party leader on their platform. Even if farmers are doing politics then what is wrong in it? Opposing the policy of the Raj is not a sin.
What is your view on the three agricultural laws on which there is so much controversy?The Bhanu Pratap Committee that was formed in 1990 was formed at my behest. He had made all these three recommendations but there were three conditions attached to them. First, the minimum purchase price should be made a legal right. Second, MSP should be for all commodities and for all farmers. Constitutional status should be given to the Third Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices. If the government accepts these things, then whether the law should be there or not, it will not have any effect.
[Attribution to NBT]