Repealed Farm Laws: ‘Pro-BJP NRI Businessman’s Proposal Paved Way for Agri Corporatisation’
New Delhi: A recent investigation by The Reporters' Collective has shed light on the creation of a task force that advocated framing of the now repealed farm laws that included corporatisation of agriculture, purportedly to double farmers' income. The report, based on documents obtained from NITI Aayog, also says that a proposal was initiated by Sharad Marathe, a non-resident Indian (NRI) businessman who runs an IT firm, with ties to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The revelation has raised concerns about the government's approach to agricultural policies and the absence of farmer representation in decision-making.
The Opposition Congress on Thursday slammed the government, accusing it of framing the three farm laws on the basis of an idea by a software NRI businessman “who has nothing to do with agriculture. The farm laws had led to a year-long farmers’ protests across the country, with three major sit-ins on the borders of Delhi.
The documents obtained by online portal, The Reporters’ Collective, reveal that government think-tank NITI Aayog moved “quickly and eagerly” to push the businessman's questionable vision: a future where farmers lease out farmland to corporate-style agribusiness companies and effectively work as their cogs.
The documents reveal that Sharad Marathe, the initiator of the proposal, is not an expert in agriculture or related fields but is the owner of a software company. He wrote a letter to the then Vice Chairman of NITI Aayog, Rajiv Kumar, in October 2017, outlining a grand vision to revamp agriculture (the report has published the letter). Despite his lack of expertise, Marathe's proposal gained traction due to his proximity to the BJP leadership.
According to the letter, Marathe's proposal suggested leasing farmland to corporate-style agribusiness companies, where farmers would effectively work as employees. Subsequently, Niti Aayog “rapidly embraced” this idea and appointed Marathe to a task force responsible for further developing the concept.
The task force included prominent names from big agricultural commodities trade corporations, such as the Adani Group, Patanjali, BigBasket, Mahindra Group, and ITC. Notably absent were representatives from farmer organisations, economists, and actual farmers, the report noted.
The task force's report was submitted to the government in 2018 without any consultation with farmers or relevant experts. The report recommended a model where farmers lease their land to corporate entities and collaborate in producing and selling agricultural products, supposedly leading to increased profits for farmers. However, the report was never made public.
In the aftermath of this revelation, questions are being raised about the government's approach to doubling farmers' income. Prime Minister Narendra Modi made this promise, aiming to improve the livelihoods of around 60% of Indians dependent on agriculture. The lack of farmer consultation and the reliance on a proposal by a non-agricultural expert have fuelled criticism about the government's handling of this critical sector.
The proposal gained further relevance when the Modi government introduced three controversial laws aimed at involving corporate players in farming and deregulating agricultural markets. These laws triggered widespread farmer protests, with thousands of farmers protesting at Delhi's borders for an extended period. The protests led to significant human casualties due to factors like extreme weather and the COVID-19 pandemic. Eventually, the government was forced to repeal the laws due to mounting pressure.
Despite his limited expertise, Marathe's involvement in various policy-related ventures has raised eyebrows. He was part of an Ayush Ministry's task force unrelated to his field of expertise, and his involvement in the NITI Aayog's task force on farmers' income is being scrutinised. Additionally, Marathe's connections to the BJP leadership, including his friendship with the head of BJP's overseas friend's unit, have raised concerns about the undue influence of party affiliations in policy decisions.
The NITI Aayog's “swift” adoption of Marathe's proposal, the formation of the task force, and the subsequent lack of transparency surrounding the task force's activities and recommendations have highlighted the need for a more inclusive and consultative approach to shaping agricultural policies.
The Collective said sent detailed queries to the NITI Aayog, the Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare and the firms the task force consulted. None of them responded despite reminders.
When asked by IANS, former vice chairman of NITI Aayog, Rajiv Kumar, refused to comment on the news report by the Reporters' Collective.
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