A farmers march to the Indian Parliament has been organised today (Friday) by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, which claims to be an umbrella organisation of over 200 farmers bodies of India. These farmers assembled at Delhi’s historic Ramlila ground on Thursday evening.
I regret to use of harsh language, but am compelled to say that the organisers of this march have acted in an adventurist fashion like Father Gapon who in January 1905 led a crowd of protesters to the Winter Palace in St Petersburg, Russia on Bloody Sunday, which ended in their massacre by the Cossack troops, or like those who led a mob in Paris to the French Convention in October 1795 which was dispersed by ‘a whiff of grapeshot’ by Napoleon’s troops on Vendemiarie.
The farmers demand a special three week session of Parliament to consider and enact a law granting remunerative prices for their products as recommended by the Swaminathan Committee (at 50% above the cost price) and loan waivers. But can Parliament grant these?
Constitutionally it is doubtful that it can do so since agriculture is an item in entry 14 of List II (the state list) in the Seventh Schedule to the Indian Constitution. Hence to my mind only state legislatures can accept such demands, not the Parliament.
However, even assuming that the Parliament has jurisdiction in the matter, to accept and enact a law in accordance with the Swaminathan Committee report involves an estimated expenditure of Rs 2 lakh crore annually, which the government can ill afford. So even assuming that the Parliament accedes this demand and enacts such a law, it will never be implemented.
The system of procurement of agricultural products by the government in India is that it announces a procurement price every year for government purchase of paddy, rice, etc. There are several thousand government purchase centres all over the country and farmers can bring their produce and sell them there at the price announced by the govt (of course they are free to sell their produce to private purchasers too).
Now, what will actually happen if such a law as demanded by the protesters is enacted is that when the farmers go to the government purchase centres with their produce, they will be told that the centres have no money, and so cannot purchase. So the law will only exist on paper.
As regards loan waiver, why only for farmers, why not for small and middle businessmen? Why not for others?
Apart from this, there is a principle of administration that a demand made under pressure must not be accepted, for accepting it sends a message that the government is weak and can be pressurised. This will open the floodgates to more such demands, and there will be no end to this. We saw what happened during Anna Hazare’s agitation.
The Parliament is a sovereign body, and if it can be pressurised in this manner it will set up a precedent and there will be a spate of such marches to Parliament, for there are numerous grievances among the people. For instance, there will be a march by the unemployed demanding employment, there may be another by workers demanding higher wages, students demanding free education, etc.
To my mind, such marches will sooner or later be dispersed by a ‘whiff of grapeshot’ by some Napoleon, and the Father Gapons will be squarely responsible for the bloodshed (Father Gapon was later revealed to be a police spy).
(Justice Markandey Katju is a former Supreme Court judge and ex-chairman of Press Council of India)