Modi govt lied in SC on having consulted farmers, experts prior to passing three farm laws, reveal RTI queries

Contrary to what govt claimed in SC, Agriculture Ministry said in RTI responses that it did not have any information about any such meetings or consultations with farmers, experts or farmers’ unions

Modi govt lied in SC on having consulted farmers, experts prior to passing three farm laws, reveal RTI queries
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Ashlin Mathew

Contrary to the Central government’s claims in the Supreme Court about having carried out extensive consultations with stakeholders with regard to the three contentious farm laws, the Union Agriculture Ministry responded to Right to Information applications seeking such details with the response that it did not have information about meetings or consultations with experts, farmers or farmers’ unions before they were enacted.

The Centre submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court stating that the “affidavit is necessary for the purpose of dispelling the erroneous notion that the protestors have peddled that the Central Government and the Parliament never had any consultative process or examination of issues by any Committee before passing of the laws in question.”

The Modi government added: “An impression was created that the Acts were passed hurriedly without undergoing any process. This response is to show the serious, sincere and constructive efforts made by the Central Government to engage with the limited number of protesting farmers who are opposing the Act.”

However, RTI responses have shown that there are no records of any such consultations.

Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had also tweeted in December: “A total of 1.37 lakh webinars and trainings were conducted since June 2020 where 92.42 lakh farmers participated.”

In RTI requests filed by activist Anjali Bhardwaj with the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare in December, she had requested for information on the consultations held before the Centre passed the three farm ordinances in June.

The request was transferred to various departments. The Central Public Information Officer (CPIO) of ‘Marketing L Cell’ responded on December 22 stating that he “does not hold any record in this matter”. CPIOs of ‘Marketing II’ and ‘Farmers Welfare’ departments forwarded the queries to other CPIOs.

On January 6, the CPIO of the ‘Marketing-I’ department responded: “I am the CPIO in respect of Marketing I Section dealing with administrative work of the Agricultural Marketing Division, Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare. The information sought by you does not pertain to Marketing-I Section. Further, your RTI application has already been marked online to CPIO, Marketing II Section who deals with scheme-related work in respect of Agriculture Marketing Division. In view of this, in so far Marketing-I Section is concerned, the information is treated as Nil.”

Bhardwaj had sought copies of the minutes of the meetings held to discuss the proposed laws before the promulgation of the ordinances, and lists of persons, experts and farmers groups with whom these consultations where held. Bharadwaj also requested for details of the states and communication with the states with whom consultations were held.

Bharadwaj highlighted media reports which stated that the Agriculture Ministry had consulted various experts, former officials and agriculture departments of various states while preparing the three farm laws.

In another RTI request, she wanted to know if the Centre had placed the draft legislation in the public domain for 30 days, in accordance with norms set by its own Pre-Legislative Consultation Policy as well as by the Central Information Commission.

None of the departments had any information.

In June, the government had passed the Farmer Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020; the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020; and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020.

This is not the first time that the Central government evidently lied in the Supreme Court. In March 2020, Solicitor General of India Tushar Mehta informed the apex court that “no migrant worker was walking on the roads to their villages”.

This was a blatant lie as people had begun walking as soon as the Prime Minister had abruptly announced a nationwide lockdown on March 24 claiming that it was necessary to fight the SARSCov2 virus.

In May, Mehta had informed the SC that food and drinking water were being provided free to migrant labourers returning to their homes in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was later proven that most migrant workers were not given either food or water for even 78-hour journeys.

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