New Delhi: The Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations are once again in the limelight amidst the ongoing nationwide farmers’ agitation against the three controversial agricultural laws passed by the Narendra Modi government.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar have recently claimed once again that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had failed to implement the recommendations of the National Farmers Commission, known as the Swaminathan Commission, for eight years, following which their party finally implemented them.
While addressing a conference in Madhya Pradesh on December 18, Modi, referring to the farmers’ movement, said, “Those who have started this movement in the name of farmers, Swaminathan Commission’s report is the biggest proof of how ruthless these people can be. These people (Congress) sat on the Swaminathan Commission report recommendations for eight long years.”
“The farmers used to agitate earlier also but it did not move these people. They ensured that their government doesn’t have to spend much on farmers, so they kept the report under wraps,” added Modi. “This government is dedicated to farmers and considers farmers as Annadata. The recommendations of the report of the Swaminathan Committee were implemented by this government, giving minimum support price (MSP) of one and a half times the cost to the farmers.”
However, these claims made by the prime minister do not live up to the facts recorded by the ministry of agriculture and farmers welfare. The ministry had planned to implement 201 out of the total recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission.
However, official documents obtained by The Wire show that out of the 200 recommendations the government has claimed to implement, only 25 have been implemented during the Modi government. The remaining 175 recommendations were implemented during the previous UPA regime.
These claims made by the Central government are quite controversial. The Wire will soon publish a series of detailed reports assessing whether these recommendations have been implemented in theory or in practice.
Swaminathan Commission and thereafter
The National Farmers’ Commission was formed on November 18, 2004, under the leadership of eminent agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan. The Commission submitted its fifth and final report to the government on October 4, 2006. The report aims to make agriculture a source of income and employment, besides bringing about a comprehensive and sustainable shift in agricultural practices.
The report has also formulated the National Farmers Policy incorporating key recommendations of the Commission. As many as 201 action points have been suggested. An interministerial committee (IMC) has been formed to oversee their implementation.
According to the documents, the IMC has held a total of eight meetings so far, out of which only three were held during the tenure of the Modi government.
Its first meeting was held on October 14, 2009, in which the outline was proposed for the implementation of 201 recommendations. The second meeting of the IMC was held on June 3, 2010. By then, 42 recommendations had been implemented while 159 were pending.
The third meeting of the committee was held in June 2012 and till then 152 recommendations had been implemented while 49 were pending.
Its fourth and fifth meetings were held in September 2013 and January 2014 respectively. According to records, 25 more recommendations were implemented during this period.
When the Modi government came to power in 2014, 26 of the 201 action points had to be implemented, of which 25 have been implemented so far, with one pending.
In August 2015, the sixth meeting of IMC was held. By then, 17 more recommendations were considered implemented while nine were pending. The last meeting was held on April 8, 2019.
These figures also raise questions on the claims of the union agriculture minister. In an interview to Dainik Bhaskar, Tomar had claimed that out of the 201 recommendations of the Swaminathan Committee, 200 have been implemented under Modi’s leadership.
However, it is clear from the data presented above that according to the ministry of agriculture, only 25 recommendations have been implemented during the Modi government’s tenure.
He also claimed that the newly enacted laws are based on the recommendations of the National Commission for Farmers.
However, in the context of the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act 2020, which allows the purchase and sale of agricultural produce outside the APMC (Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee), the Swaminathan Commission did recommend in its report that there is an urgent need to bring about changes in the APMC system.
But nowhere does the report state that the central government can formulate a law regarding it. The Commission had instead recommended states to make changes in their respective APMC Acts.
Out of these 201 recommendations, only one recommendation related to the APMC, regarding the tax imposed in the mandis, has been included.
The Commission had asked it to be applied as ‘service charge’ instead of ‘compulsory tax’, so that whatever facility is used, it pays the same tax or levy.
To garner public support for the new law, BJP leaders, including the prime minister and union agriculture minister, have been terming it as a wrongful tax and insisting that no tax is being imposed in the so-called new system.
However, documents obtained by The Wire reveal that the union finance ministry has justified it saying that the amount collected in the mandis is not tax as the concerned APMCs provide services to the people in exchange for them. The ministry has proposed to impose a uniform goods and services tax (GST) across the country. The ministry of agriculture has also supported it.
Another demand of the farmers in the ongoing agriculture movement has been that the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission should be implemented in totality, especially the recommendation regarding the MSP of one and a half times the cost. Although the government claims that they have implemented this provision, the figures raise serious questions regarding the implementation of the same.
In addition, the Commission gave detailed recommendations in its report on various aspects of farming, such as irrigation, land reforms, agricultural productivity, credit and insurance, food security, prevention of farmer suicides, agricultural market, and employment in agriculture.
Farmers have been protesting against three farm ordinances passed by the Central government – Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020.
Farmers fear that with these laws the government is destroying the established system of providing MSP, and once it is implemented, farmers will be at the mercy of traders.
The Modi government, on the other hand, has repeatedly denied these allegations, and instead, have been describing the new laws as ‘historic agriculture reforms’. It has been claiming that they have been creating an alternative system for the sale of agricultural produce.
(Translated from Hindi by Naushin Rehman)