A day ahead of the next round of talks between the Centre and farmer unions opposed to the new agriculture laws, the Supreme Court-appointed committee of experts held its first meeting in New Delhi Tuesday, and its members said they would “try to convince” the protesting farmers while seeking views of other farmer organisations and the government.
Shetkari Sanghatana president Anil Ghanwat, addressing the press along with the two other members of the committee, agricultural economists Parmod Kumar Joshi and Ashok Gulati, said: “Committee members will keep aside their personal ideology on the farm laws while preparing the report to be submitted to the Supreme Court. We have to listen to the agitating farmers and other farmers on what they want. Our duty is to listen to them and place it before the Supreme Court. We are not here to impose our ideology.”
Yet Ghanwat, while responding to questions from reporters, said: “I want to tell the agitating farmers that the laws in place in the country for the last 70 years were not in the interest of the farmers… 4.5 lakh farmers have committed suicide due to this. If the farmer is becoming poor, and burdened with debt, then some changes are needed. When the changes were taking place, this movement (against the laws) started. We too were not entirely in favour of the laws. We also wanted some changes, some corrections. If these (new laws) are repealed, then any party that comes to power in the next 50-60 years will not have the patience to touch these laws, and the farmer will keep dying.”
Urging the unions to sit across the table, Ghanwat said: “Cooperate with us to bring those reforms, cooperate with the committee, you and we are one. I am a farmer leader. I have often led thousands of farmers from Maharashtra to help the farmers of Punjab. There is no question of enmity… Whether what they have to say is right or wrong, that can be decided by sitting face-to-face. We can be wrong, they can also be wrong. All can sit together and omit the wrong… what is right will be placed before the Supreme Court.”
Within hours of the meeting – three members of the panel met since the fourth member, Bhupinder Singh Mann, president of BKU (Mann) and chairman of All India Kisan Coordination Committee, recused himself from the panel on January 14 — unions opposed to the laws, and camping at the gates of Delhi since November 26, reiterated that they would not appear before the panel.