Agriculture ministry

PARLIAMENt defied

Centre assured Parliament a report on farmer killings in MP, but stalled it indefinitely

 Even seven years after the firing, the Modi government is yet to report to Parliament on what action BJP-led Madhya Pradesh government has taken against police officers who killed six farmers agitating for government support, and steps taken to mitigate farmer distress

People in power give assurances inside Parliament under public glare. In this series, The Collective is investigating what happened to those promises because we promised our readers to hold the powerful accountable.

New Delhi: When in 2017 Madhya Pradesh police fired at aggrieved farmers protesting against farm policies, killing six and wounding as many, outrage spread quickly and reached Parliament.

Lok Sabha debated the police killing. A question was raised in the Rajya Sabha asking the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare whether it had sought a report from the state government led by Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan on reasons for the farmers agitation, whether action had been taken against policemen who opened fire and what relief was offered to farmers who faced police violence.

Then Minister of State for Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Parshottam Rupala told the Rajya Sabha that a report had been sought from the state government on the killing. 

Parliament treated it as an assurance, requiring the  government to share the findings of the report. 

Ministry of Agriculture assures Parliament that a report has been sought from the state government on farmers’ agitation. Source: Digital Sansad 

This is what we found of the government’s assurance as part of our investigative series Parliament Defied:  Even seven years after the firing in June 2017, the Union government hasn’t tabled the report. It instead has tried getting Parliament to stop asking for the report by attempting to get the assurance dropped altogether.

With the Rajya Sabha’s Committee on Government Assurances, an accountability watchdog, not relenting, Chouhan as the newly appointed Union Minister for Agriculture is now tasked to hold himself – Chouhan the former Chief Minister – answerable to citizens through Parliament.

It is unlikely that Chouhan will face any trouble or even embarrassment as the purportedly elaborate processes in Parliament to hold the government accountable for the promises made inside the two Houses has terribly failed.

Indians are used to promises by politicians that are often grand but unreliable. But pledges made in Parliament hold a sacred weight, upheld by mechanisms ensuring government accountability. Our investigative series, "Parliament Defied," delves into these parliamentary promises, examining their outcomes.

Through an exhaustive analysis of over 100 parliamentary reports spanning thousands of pages and covering 55 ministries over five years, our reporters reveal the stark reality of government assurances. 

This third part of our investigative series shows how governments frequently rely on two stalling tactics -- “we have sought a report” and “we have set up a committee” -- to avoid accountability to citizens. And in this case, how easily the Union government was able to brush the call for accountability in farmer’s killings under the carpet.

THE PROBLEM

The farmers of Madhya Pradesh were beset with multiple crises in their struggle to grow food, many of them caused by Union and state governments’ policies.

In May 2016, the Union government banned export of pulses, a key crop of the state. The same year saw a record-high harvest in India. To add to the glut, the government proceeded to import 6.6 million tonnes of pulses – the highest amount in a decade – forcing farmers, who could not sell their produce for export, to sell their produce at throw-away prices to domestic traders.

More bad news came in November 2016. Overnight, the government banned 80% of high-value currency in India, commonly called demonetisation. It sent the agrarian economy that thrives on cash into shock. By June 2017 domestic market prices for crops grown in Madhya Pradesh, ranging from pulses to wheat, slid drastically.

The blows in quick succession were too much for farmers. The farmers’ unions in the state hit the streets in protest with a grab bag of demands for the government. The farmers wanted the government to pay more for their crops. They wanted the prices recommended by the 2006 National Commission for Farmers headed by MS Swaminathan. They also demanded that the farmers’ debt be waived off, just as the government in neighbouring Uttar Pradesh had done. 

As protests swelled, then chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan met members of the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, a farmers’ organisation affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. After the meeting, the government claimed that the farmers were satisfied with the relief measures it had offered as a part of the ‘deal’ signed with them.

However, other farmers’ unions across the state continued the agitation, asking the government to agree to at least two of their main demands -- the loan waiver and remunerative price for farm produce.

Chouhan’s government did not budge. Protests intensified. 

Following clashes that injured both farmers and policemen, Chouhan warned publicly that the “anti-social” elements that had infiltrated the farmers’ agitation will be “firmly” dealt with. He did say that genuine farmers would not be harmed. 

On June 6, police shot dead six farmers and wounded six more.

The government called the incident the result of local “administrative failure” and transferred the District Collector and Superintendent of Police as a “corrective measure to restore the confidence of the people.”

In July 2017, parliamentarians Ranjib Biswal and Ritabrata Banerjee questioned the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare whether it had sought a report from the state on the killings, the relief offered to the farmers and if action had been taken against the policemen involved in the killings.

The Committee on Government Assurance rejects a request made by the Ministry of Agriculture to drop  its assurance. Source: 75th Report of the Committee on Government Assurances 

In response, then minister Radha Mohan Singh said, “The report has been sought from the state government on the farmers’ agitation.”

This statement was treated as an assurance to Parliament. The Union government was now required to provide details after securing a report from Chouhan’s BJP government in Madhya Pradesh

With time as anger faded and news of the killings died, the government ignored its commitment to Parliament.

When the committee on assurances sent a reminder to submit the report, the government told it to drop the assurance – nearly four years after first making the assurance – implying that details on what action the state has taken against erring policemen or steps taken to help distressed farmers should not be expected.

 But the committee didn’t relent. In February 2021, it asked the ministry to get the required information from the state government.

More than a year passed. The Union government did not listen to the assurance committee of Rajya Sabha.

 In 2022, after stalling for five years, the government  in its implementation report to the committee said what the entire country had known rather well in 2017 itself.

 It said, “As per available information, six adult male persons were killed and six adult male persons were injured during the farmers’ agitation in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh in June, 2017.”

It added, “The committee would complete its report within three months and submit its report to the Government of Madhya Pradesh.

Union ministry furnished data that was already publicly known to tell the committee on government assurances that it has fulfilled its assurance. Source: 76th Report of the Committee on Government Assurances

It is not clear which committee the Union government was referring to. In all likelihood it was referring to the committee set up by the state in 2017, headed by retired high court judge JK Jain, to inquire into police firing. The government hasn’t made the report public. But purported leaks from the report in the media suggest the committee had exonerated the police.

Part 1
Prologue
Assure probe, backpedal later: Government’s Parliament tactic when questions rise on Adani
Read now
Part 2
Home Ministry
Home Minister promised to help states in addressing police suicides, but quietly flipped
Read now
Part 3
Agriculture
Centre assured Parliament a report on farmer killings in MP, but stalled it indefinitely
Read now
Part 4
ministry of personnel & training
Union gov’t shredded Right to Privacy Bill at the behest of intelligence agencies
Read now
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The Union government’s perfunctory answer to Parliament furnishing some well-worn information while tip-toeing around thorny questions, was a way of telling the committee that it shouldn’t be bothered anymore on the farmers’ killings. 

But the Rajya Sabha’s Committee on Assurances didn't relent.

It criticised the Union government. “The Committee observes that resorting to extreme punitive actions such as firing by the police on farmers holding civil agitations is not at all justified and the guilty officials must be held accountable and brought to justice for committing such an offence,” it said.

The Committee on Assurances criticises the Union government’s attempt to backtrack on its assurance regarding farmers’ killings. Source: 76th Report of the Committee on Government Assurances 

Seven years after the killings, Narendra Modi is back in the prime ministerial saddle for the third time. Shivraj Chouhan is now his agriculture minister

The seven-year-old assurance that the government will tell us about the killing of farmers and steps taken to mitigate their distress remains pending.

THE OTHER BROKEN PROMISES
Greenhorns and policies

In 2020-21, the Union Ministry of Agriculture launched a scheme to promote natural farming that avoids chemical fertilisers or pesticides and relies on bio inputs sourced locally. Going with the Modi government’s penchant for repackaging schemes, this scheme too would come to have several names: Zero Budget Natural Farming, Bhartiya Prakritik Krishi Paddhti and then National Mission on Natural Farming. 

In 2022, then Parliamentarian Naga Nageswar Rao asked the government if it had conducted any studies to assess the efficacy of Zero Budget Natural Farming, which has had its critiques. 

The ministry assured Parliament that the Indian Council of Agricultural Research was evaluating natural farming and the study was going on.

More than a year later, in August 2023, the government recommended dropping the assurance. It said there was insufficient data to conduct the study. On December 19, 2023, the assurance was officially dropped even as the scheme continued to be run.

Union Ministry of Agriculture’s appeal to drop the assurance, on the grounds that enough data was not available for analysis. Source: 93rd Report of the Committee on Government Assurances 
A Seed Bill That Didn’t Germinate

In 2004, the Congress-led Union government introduced a Seeds Bill to ensure top-quality seeds for farmers. Among other provisions, the bill also had provision for compensation to farmers in case seeds turn out to be dud. The bill was taken up by a parliamentary standing committee in 2011 but was never passed.

Parliamentary assurances don’t die with governments. While the BJP replaced the Congress-led UPA in 2014, it continued to be scrutinised over the assurance on the Seeds Bill made a decade earlier. 

In 2017, when the government was questioned in Parliament about the Bill’s status, it assured that the bill continued to be under consideration. 

Another four years passed. 

After 17 years of remaining ‘under consideration’ the ministry washed its hands off the bill, without actually killing it. It told the committee on assurances that the Bill was still pending in the Rajya Sabha and so, it was beyond the ministry's control. 

The assurance committee dropped the government assurance on bringing in the Bill. It was like a bad seed that disappoints farmers.

Ministry of Agriculture requests the committee to drop its assurance, stating that the Bill was still pending with the Rajya Sabha.  Source: 46th Report of the Committee on Government Assurances 

the assurances database

Zero Budget Natural Farming

◍ Dropped

Agricultural research takes 3-5 years to draw valid conclusions and field experiments were initiated during Kharif season of 2020 and data for only 2 years is available for analysis.

Assurance Date : 15.03.22

Dropped on : 09.02.23

House : Lok Sabha

Total Pending time : 11 months

Licensing and Formats for GM technology Agreement Guidelines

◍ Dropped

Dept received comments from various stakeholders like farmers, seed associations, corporate houses etc and majority of seed associations. corporate house and DPIT aren't in favour of the guidelines. They think this will discourage research and innovation in the field of agriculture which is a lengthy, complex and v complex process.The guideline would hamper the welfare of farmers in the long tun and also the ease of doing business. It has also already been rescinded.

Assurance Date : 19.07.16

Dropped on : 23.03.22

House : Lok Sabha

Total Pending time : 68 months

Corruption in Coconut Development Board

◍ Dropped

Extension for fulfilling the Assurance was requested as the matter is sub-judice. However, it is felt that since decisions in court cases generally get prolonged and are beyond the control of GOI, fulfilling the assurance may take a long time.

Assurance Date : 09.07.19

Dropped on : 03.08.21

House : Lok Sabha

Total Pending time : 25 months

Illustrations by : Saloni Thakur

THE FOLKS
BEHIND THE Story

Project Lead
Shreegireesh Jalihal

Reporter

Authors & Researchers
Saras Jaiswal

Intern

Swapnil Ghose

Intern

Editors
Anoop George Philip

Editor

Nitin Sethi

Founder

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