Farmer leader Anil Ghanwat -- one of the three members of the Supreme Court appointed committee on farm laws who made their final report public on Monday -- has brushed off the criticism that they had only interviewed farmers who were in favour of the contentious laws. He also told NDTV he did not have the names of the organisations interviewed and suggested that an RTI can be filed to access the list.
At a press conference on Monday, the Pune-based farmer leader said he had written to the Supreme Court on three occasions, asking that the report be released, but in the absence of a response, he was releasing it on his own. The other two members -- economist Ashok Gulati and agri-economist Pramod Kumar Joshi -- were not present at the press conference.
The report had contended that 86 per cent of the farmers they interviewed were not against the laws. The details of the 61 organisations the committee interviewed were also not part of the report -- Mr Ghanwat said it was to "keep it short".
Asked if those details of the respondents can be shared with the media, Anil Ghanwat told NDTV on Tuesday, "They are available with the Supreme Court and they can share it later". When pressed, he added, "I do not know who is in possession of that data. He can go ahead and release it too. You can demand it under the RTI (Right to Information Act)".
The farmers protesting against the laws, which were later repealed by the government, had boycotted the committee, declaring that all three members were pro-farm laws. "If these people wanted to have a representation they should have come," Mr Ghanwat said, referring to the farmers who were protesting against the laws.
Asked why the committee did not go to meet them at the protest site where they had been camping since November 2020, he said, "It was around Republic Day... There were security issues so we could not go to the agitation site".
Mr Ghanwat, however, refused to admit that the report was not representative. "Out of those we interacted with -- 61 out of 73 organisations supported the farm laws, with some suggestions and 15 to 16 organisations said they favour repeal," he said. "Many farmers we invited were unable to come because of Covid. Many others had network issues (when online interviews were suggested) and we could not get their views," he added.
Of the 20,000-plus online responses, only 5,000 respondents were farmers. About the rest, Mr Ghanwat said, "They are stakeholders too. They did not have to be farmers. It was an open portal".
Asked about the identity of the respondents, Mr Ghanwat said, "they are traders, exporters, processors, millers… anybody who deals in agriculture is a stakeholder.
The farm laws were withdrawn in November last year after months of face-off between the farmers and the government, involvement of courts and a final series of U-turns by the government. The decision came ahead of a string of crucial state elections, as protests affected campaigning in the poll-bound states, with angry protesters barring the entry of leaders and disrupting meetings.
For the government, which had furiously defended the farm laws for around two years, it was a huge climbdown.
In his address to the nation on the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, "While apologising to the nation, I want to say with a sincere and pure heart that maybe something was lacking in our tapasya (dedication) that we could not explain the truth, as clear as the light of the diya, to some of our farmer brothers".