The farmers of India are heroes who have done so much to ensure that starvation has all but disappeared from India, a country that has seen famines taking away hundreds of thousands of precious lives, even millions, as recently as in the 1960s. Punjab has been in the vanguard of progress in our country, accounting for a substantial part of the surplus foodgrain that goes across the country for keeping hunger away from the needy. Similar is the case with Haryana, again a state that has done immense service in the cause of ending starvation. Several appear to have a difference of opinion about the three farm laws passed recently by Parliament. There are world leaders who believe that it is somehow improper for a government elected democratically to pass laws, and who believe that the way to extinguish a law is to fill the streets with protestors. A better way would be to meet around a table and seek an amicable resolution, but if this proves impossible, it would be a precedent that may return again and again to try and ensure that other laws that have been passed by both Houses of Parliament get withdrawn in such a manner. In a period when reforms are being attempted, almost every move to change the long-established status quo will be opposed by many. If they are given a veto, hardly any except the most anodyne of reforms can be implemented. This would be harmful to the interests of the country and each of its citizens, no matter what state they belong to or what the faith they are born into is. It is a fact that there is a wide band between the price received by the farmer and that paid by the consumer. Those who act as middlemen in such transactions claim that they have costs such as transportation and the giving of loans to farmers. Judging by the evidence, it is obvious that the middleman makes far more out of each transaction than the farmer. Hence the aversion to the setting up of a system where he is absent or not needed, and in which the farmer can directly contract the sale of his produce with a buyer. There should be freedom for enterprising individuals to set up internet kiosks designed to assist farmers to contact prospective buyers, so that they get the best price rather than that given by the middleman, which is often less than the minimum support price by a substantial amount because of what is claimed to be loan repayment as well as other charges. Every reform needs time to iron out the wrinkles and ensure smooth functioning, and the system created by the new laws will not be different. Unless they are put in operation, it is not possible to claim that the new is worse than the old. The reverse may be the case. The best way forward would be for those states who do not wish to implement the laws to be given the freedom to keep the laws in abeyance, while those states willing to go ahead with implementation should be permitted to do so. A blanket ban even temporarily or through withdrawal of the laws would not be fair to those states who are willing to go forward with the innovation.
GST is an example of a complex new policy that was needed and operationalised. During the rollout, it was clear that the new tax was hardly simple. Over the months that it has been in implementation, several tweaks and even major changes have taken place in the structure that was first rolled out in a dramatic fashion by the government. This is as it should be. There are still several businesses that claim that GST rates are often not reflective of business reality, or are too high. The small and medium sector in particular has been affected, and it is important to resolve such issues. In similar fashion, the farm laws that were passed are intended to give the farmer a much bigger range of choices in the sale of produce than has been the case so far. It may be that those who grew only food may wish to plant fruit and vegetables as an addition. The diet of large swathes of the population is changing from a preponderance of grain to a more balanced diet that includes more vegetables and fruit. This may be a partial explanation of why such large quantities of grain go waste every year in India. The farm laws should be given a chance to prove their efficacy in improving the life of the farmer, and if the responsibility for deciding whether to implement them or not should devolve on the state/district administration, that would be a sensible way out of the present impasse. Those who are protesting need to be careful to avoid violence and to ensure that the inconvenience caused to ordinary residents is kept to a minimum. With tractor trailers ferrying batches of protestors back to their villages and bringing in a new batch on their return, it seems that the protest has been well organised. Farmers are an important component of society and need to be given respect. In turn, those who are farmers and who are protesting the farm laws on the outskirts of the capital need to go by the traditions of democratic practice and discussion, and avoid any manifestation of violence. Roads need to remain open for people and supplies, as at present, multiple inconveniences including price rise are being noted since the agitation was launched two months ago. India needs to concentrate on increasing prosperity and sharing it better, and for this, reform is a necessary adjunct.