Government has maintained that multiple consultations were held with farmers before passing the bills

New Delhi:

Despite the centre repeatedly stating that it held multiple consultations with ‘stakeholders’ before passing the three controversial farm laws, a response to a RTI query filed by NDTV says the government “does not hold any record in this matter”.

The Narendra Modi government has been criticised – by the opposition and farmer groups protesting the new laws – for not holding enough consultations before the bills were passed.

However, the government insists that it held several rounds of discussions with farmers.

On Monday Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar took part in a Facebook Live event, in which he said: “these laws have been discussed in the country for a very long time… many committees were set up which then conducted many consultations across the country”.

Earlier this month Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said “extensive consultations, trainings and outreach programmes (were) conducted on the Agriculture Laws with stakeholders”. He said “1.37 lakh webinars and trainings” had been held since June and 92.42 lakh farmers had participated.

Similarly, a note from government sources tried to debunk the “perception the central government has not done extensive outreach and consultations with farmers and their representatives”.

“Feedback was also obtained from few progressive farmers and knowledgeable mandi officials. There were multiple meetings with FPOs (farmer producer organisations) through video conferences. The ministry also consulted a prominent farmers’ union and even did a change in the ordinance after their feedback,” the note declared.

The response to NDTV’s RTI query, however, casts serious doubts over the veracity of these claims.

NDTV filed the query with the Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmer’s Welfare, on December 15 and asked for details of consultations, if any, with farmer groups on the three laws.

NDTV asked if the government had held any consultation with farmer groups before the bills were made into laws. NDTV also asked for details of these meetings, including date, names of farmer representatives who attended, the groups to which they were affiliated, and details of other attendees. NDTV also requested a copy of the minutes of these meetings.

On December 22 we received a response from the Chief Public Information Officer, saying the government “does not hold any record in this matter” and that the request had been closed.

NDTV has since filed an appeal, citing multiple instances of union ministers claiming consultations.

Tens of thousands of farmers across the country are up in arms over laws they say will leave them at the mercy of corporates and endanger their livelihoods. Thousands of them have been camped out around Delhi borders for over a month, demanding the laws be scrapped.

At least 30 deaths have been reported since the protests began last month; several of these, the farmers say, are from the winter chill as they are camped outdoors with minimal heating at night.

Multiple rounds of talks have failed, with neither side willing to budge. The government says it will not roll back the laws and is only willing to amend the more problematic sections.

Farmers and the government will meet for a sixth round at 2 pm Wednesday, but have warned that they will only discuss certain issues, including modalities for repeal of the laws and providing legal guarantees for MSP.

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