The panel appointed by the Supreme Court to resolve grievances over the new farm laws held its first meeting today and said it will rope in viewpoints of farmers and agriculture sector stakeholders besides central and state government, member Anil Ghanwat said on Tuesday.
The committee will maintain objectivity and not let personal views on these Acts come in the way of their deliberations, Ghanwat said. He asserted that they are not on the side of any party or the government, but indicated that a complete repeal won't augur well for much-needed agriculture reforms.
After their first meeting here, Ghanwat said the first round of consultations with farmers and other stakeholders has been scheduled for Thursday.
A key committee member and president of Maharashtra-based Shetkari Sanghatana, Anil Ghanwat said the farm sector reforms are much needed and no political party in the next 50 years will ever attempt them again if these laws are repealed.
He, however, added the panel will listen to all farmers, including those supporting and those opposing the laws, and accordingly prepare a report for submitting to the apex court.
He also said that the laws implemented in the last 70 years were not in the interest of farmers and about 4.5 lakh farmers have committed suicide.
"Farmers are getting poor and are under debt. Some changes are needed. Those changes were happening but the protest began," he added.
Apart from Ghanwat, agri-economists Ashok Gulati and Pramod Kumar Joshi are the other members of the panel. Bhartiya Kisan Union President Bhupinder Singh Mann recused himself from the committee last week.
"The biggest challenge for panel is to convince agitating farmers to come and speak with us. We will try our best," he said.
The committee has been appointed by the Supreme Court and it is up to the apex court whom to appoint, he said on whether any replacement would be made for Mann. "We have been given a responsibility and we will fulfil it properly," Ghanwat said.
"We want to request those farmers who don't want to come before us that we are neither from any party nor from the government side. We are from the Supreme Court side," he said on allegations by the agitating unions and opposition parties that all the members were pro-government.
"Come and talk to us. We will listen to you and present your views before the court. We request them to come and speak to us," Ghanwat said.
It is not clear as yet whether an apex court-appointed panel can meet the protesting farmers at their place if they don't appear before us, but the committee members wish to meet them and try to convince them, he added.
On protesting farmers' allegations that the panel members were "pro-government" and have openly expressed their support for the three laws in the past, Ghanwat said, "It is their view. Whatever might have been our earlier ideology, now we are on the Supreme Court-appointed panel. We cannot be one-sided."
"Panel members will keep their personal views on farm laws aside while preparing a report to be submitted to the Supreme Court. ...Our duty is to listen to both sides and not impose our ideology," he said.
He said whatever are the best views and the collective wisdom of the committee on the farm laws, and also views of farmers and other stakeholders, that need to be collated and put in a proper framework and communicated to the Supreme Court.
"That's what we have to do. That's our prime job," Gulati said.
Joshi said "Our views may be different. When a responsibility like this is given by the court, we have to work in an unbiased and transparent way. In the report, we cannot give our views and that is very clear."
He also said the committee is hopeful of completing the report within two months, as directed by the Supreme Court.
"People are dying in the cold. We don't want this (protest) to continue not because of any political reasons but I am a farmer and I have been agitating for so many years too. When lives are lost in agitation, it is very disappointing and heartbreaking," Ghanwat said.
Ghanwat said his own organisation was also not fully in favour of the laws and it wanted some changes.
"But, if the laws are repealed, no party that will come to power in the next 50 years will ever show courage to attempt to bring these reforms again. Farmers will continue to die. If we want change, come and talk to us. We will try to fully deliver what you want," he said adding that reforms are needed to end the exploitative system in the agriculture sector.
"To bring these changes, cooperate with the committee... We are one. I am also a farmer leader. To help Punjab farmers, many times I mobilised thousands of farmers from Maharashtra. There is no rivalry. We had an ideology, now it is not there...," he said and added there will not be peace in the country when farmers are not able to live happily.
The apex court had constituted a four-member committee on January 11 after staying the implementation of the new farm laws, which had led to protests by thousands of farmers across Delhi borders since November.
The panel will hear views of farmers across the country, both who support and oppose the new farm laws and submit a report within two months to the apex court.
The tenth round of negotiations between the centre and farmer leaders is underway.
With PTI inputs