COVID is not right time for farm laws, says Nobel laureate Banerjee

He advises govt to defer the laws until the country’s economy partially recovers

Abhijit Banerjee, pre-poll giveaways
The Nobel laureate said that a dedicated fund is the way to reduce inequality, if we have the political will | File Photo: PTI.

Even as thousands of farmers gathered at Delhi borders have threatened to intensify their protest against three farm laws following a deadlock in talks with the government, Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee has said COVID-19 is not the right time to have a discussion about such laws.

Banerjee told NDTV recently that there was a ‘deep lack of trust’ between farmers and the Centre and that the latter should temporarily withdraw the farm laws until the economy partially recovers and a more ‘parliamentary discussion’ could be arranged.

Also read: How reforms left farmers high and dry

The farmers fear corporates would take over agriculture and force them to sell their produce at their whims and fancies.

“I would say the pandemic is not a good time to have this conversation. People don’t know what will happen to agriculture prices… either in the world in the next few years, or in India in particular,” said the Nobel laureate.

“One part of the problem is that the government’s proposal is not fully spelt out. Farmers think of a scenario in which one or more corporates hold them to ransom. The proposals need detail as to how the government will deal with such eventualities,” Banerjee said.

“People are feeling insecure… and with a bumper crop and demand deficit, this may be a good time for the government to say, ‘we hear you… we don’t agree but we hear you and we are going to withdraw this until we have a parliamentary discussion’,” he said.

Also read: Demand for ‘release of jailed activists’ not from all farmers, says union

The government has so far maintained that it is ready for a clause-by-clause discussion with farmer leaders to address their concerns on the new laws. The Centre’s response came on a day when a farmers’ outfit, the All India Kisan Coordination Committee (AIKCC) supported the new laws, suggesting these can be made optional for unwilling states.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who is also a Central go-to minister in talks with farmers, said on Monday (December 14) that the government would not take ‘retrograde steps’ (pull back the laws) while addressing the key concerns of ‘farmer brothers.’

Meanwhile, former Punjab CM, who is also the SAD chief, said on Monday that there were attempts to create divisions among Hindus and Sikhs for disrupting the farmers’ protest. The Shiromani Akali Dal is a former ally of the BJP who exited the government as well as the NDA alliance following enactment of new farm laws earlier this year.