What Farm Laws Repeal Tells Us About The Process Of Law-Making In India

by V. Anantha Nageswaran - Dec 2, 2021 10:40 AM +05:30 IST
What Farm Laws Repeal Tells Us About The Process Of Law-Making In IndiaFarmers hand over a memorandum to Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar (representative image)
Snapshot
  • In India, observation of the due process of law-making does not guarantee its success. But, perhaps, the absence of it makes it even less likely that it would succeed in being implemented.

Back in December 2020, I wrote in Mint:

Policymakers have to anticipate the grievances of losers and prepare mitigation strategies and responses in advance. In most cases, such preparation is about wider consultation, recognition of participation, and making space for co-ownership of the change. This is sound policymaking with risk management, for a setback in one field of policy reform could have a contagion effect on other reforms and governance in general.”

That said, can we put our hand to our hearts and say that the process doomed it? I don’t think so.

Dr. Ashok Gulati had written recently:

On a positive note, the tryst with the farm laws could provide important lessons for the BJP. The most important lesson being that the process of economic reforms has to be more consultative, more transparent and better communicated to the potential beneficiaries. It is this inclusiveness that lies at the heart of democratic functioning of India. It takes time and humility to implement reforms, given the argumentative nature of the society. But do so ensures everybody wins.

But, first, let us see what Dr. Ashok Gulati wrote in May 2020:

The government has surely shown a willingness to walk the right path and deserves compliments. The reforms, announced last week could be a harbinger of major change in agri-marketing, a 1991 moment of economic reforms for agriculture. But before one celebrates it, let us wait for the fine print to come.

This is what he wrote in December 2020:

… each farm household in Punjab got a subsidy of about Rs 1.22 lakh in 2019-20. This is the highest subsidy for a farm household in India. Let’s not forget that the average income of the Punjab farm household is the highest in India — in fact, almost two-and-a-half times that of an average farm household in the country…..to assess the real contribution of farmers/states to agriculture and incomes, the metric is the agri-GDP per ha of gross cropped area of the state in question. …..On that indicator, unfortunately, Punjab has the 11th rank amongst major agri-states….Can the Centre and the Punjab government join hands to find a sustainable solution to farmers’ incomes and also save depleting water, soil, and air?

Clearly, Dr. Gulati acknowledged the need to go into the details but he did not think that the process would derail the reform either in May or in December 2020.

Someone in an email group I am part of mentioned that the Electricity Reform Act of 2003 was passed after wide consultations. I agree. States too agreed that they would charge a minimum of 50 paise/kWh for farmers. Did that happen? Did consensus and consultation ensure implementation? States did not implement their pledge.

Second, the creation of the National Judicial Appointments Commission was unanimous. All political parties voted in favour of the abolition of the Collegium. The Supreme Court acted as the petitioner, judge, jury and executioner and killed the creation of NJAC.

Not many of us wrote about the lack of process in what the Supreme Court did then?

Third, the government offered to suspend the implementation of the laws for a year or year and a half and negotiate an agreement. Was it not a ‘better late than never’ process step? Why was it not taken up? So, what were the underlying motives then?

The best we can say about ‘process’ is this:

“In India, observation of the due process of law-making does not guarantee its success. But, perhaps, the absence of it makes it even less likely that it would succeed in being implemented.”

If we are thinking and talking about national interest, it behoves us to write as much about the lack of due process on the other side as we bemoan the lack of process on the part of the government and acknowledge that a democratic outcome was not respected even by the Supreme Court and that states have a very poor record of implementing even those measures that they were consulted on and that they had agreed upon.

These reforms have been in the works for fifteen years. States were given enough time and enough tools (model laws) to make these changes. They did not. Hence, the Centre acted in 2020. Further, it was an explicit promise in the election manifesto of the Congress Party.

Just a couple of days ago, Shankkar Aiyar had written a long piece as to what and how the BJP itself could have been more supportive of reforms. Well, the important thing is to have participation everywhere. That is what I had written in December 2020. Not that it would succeed always but it might fail a little less often than other approaches.

(This piece was first published on Dr V Anantha Nageswaran's blog and is republished here with permission)

V. Anantha Nageswaran has jointly authored, ‘Can India grow?’ and ‘The Rise of Finance:Causes, Consequences and Cures’

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