An insight on the ongoing Farmers protest with respect to New Agricultural Reforms

INTRODUCTION


Marking September as the black month for India as farmers across states have been protesting for their rights as the President has given his acceptance towards the three largely debatable Agriculture Bills on the 27th day of September namely, ‘The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act’, ‘Farmers (Employment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act’, and the ‘Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act’.


The Agricultural Minister, Narendra Singh Tomar contended towards these new introduced reforms as a mode of acceleration in the growth of the agricultural sector, as the view of involving private sector opens reign for the global market as well. The strategy so far understood is to create an environment wherein freedom of trade shall be ensured to all, farmers as well as the traders, with a view to promote hindrance-free intra and inter state agricultural trade practices.


When everything seems fancy and positive, why are these reforms being opposed largely?

The agricultural industry since 1800’s has faced several misfortunes of low crop price or high interest rates or be it farmers getting into deep growing debt. The farmers from Punjab and Haryana before ‘Delhi Chalo’ called upon ‘Rail Roko’ protest which was deferral of trains to the state. Over 3,00,000 farmers across the states have travelled to the borders of Delhi where their entry was sabotaged but the intervention of the police by using barricades, tear gas and water cannons against this march. The protest is about abrogation of the new above-mentioned bills. Besides this, the ordinance is in the view to deconstruct the exclusivity of the Mandis by introducing a parallel system which shall ensure free trade practice, however the Farmers demand that the mandi system shall remain unchanged and the debt that they are into shall be cleared.


Inclusion of private investors under Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill has created a sense of vulnerability in the farmers as they fear of not being paid MSP (Minimum Support Prices) as there is no availability of law in the current scenario which penalizes the action where the MSP is not being paid. The farmers here demand for a law according to which MSP shall be minimum 50% or more than WAC of production. Even though MSP has been declared for crops but the lacunae is in the implementation part as no law is regulating it so far. The farmers are not very convinced with the freedom of trade idea as in their opinion the government procures paddy, wheat, cottons etc, at MSP in the Agricultural produce market committee (APMC) yards/mandis, since the reform strategy involves dismantling of mandis, majority of the trade will take place beyond the APMC reign which will ultimately result in loss of revenues by these government houses and the farmers will now be left with no other option than relying on these huge tier corporates leading to further exploitation. Lastly, in the prevalent, present APMC system, a mandate is upon the farmers to sell their produce by going via traders, they basically act as middlemen for which they receive commission, they fear upon loss of their commission.


But surely according to the Government, a fair debate about where and how these farmers should settle out in a structured way seems more important rather than an effort to understand and respect their demands over these disputed bills. It seems the current government fails to connect to the farmers as the farmers have not yet received any notice in particular towards their demands as they are quite clear in their head about their demands which was also represented in a written format. Well equipped with ration enough to suffice months, these farmers are well determined to continue with their protest until heard. The bone of contention, in the issue with the FPTC Act, which gives freedom of trade of produce beyond APMC reign, inclusive of e- platforms is subjected to entice zero market fee. In my humble opinion, the Centre to approve any law is terms of agricultural marketing is the issue. As interpreted by scholars, there is a silver lining between agricultural ‘trade’ and ‘marketing’. Ambit Agriculture is inclusive of all the activities a farmer does, from sowing to cultivation. Trading, however starts from the point where the farmer advertises its produce. Having said that, in the matters of trade the Centre is well within its ambit to introduce new laws and restrictions but, the act of trade to happen the farmers produced has to be sold. Therefore, marketing acts like the first step towards sale. In this view, the State is more responsibly than the Centre in terms of agricultural marketing. As agriculture is placed under entry 14 of the union list and entry 28 of the state list talks about market and fairs.


The farmers obviously didn’t complain about the movement of their produce, however they are concerned about the trade part of it, as deconstruction of APMCs leads to freedom of trade i.e. the farmers will now trade as per their will which shall include, choice of seller and the place, they are fearful of the exploitation that lies ahead due to involvement of private sector.


Entry of Corporate houses in the system

Passing of these current laws shall allow these corporate houses to directly target the farmers and based on the Agricultural Census 2015-26, 86% of Indian farmers own less than 5 acers of land, a small group of farmers who own huge farms would be now targeted by these corporate houses but what about these small farmers? In the current system, while the government procures the produces of these farmers at the APMC Mandi, the farmers in return are just guaranteed a MSP. Now when the corporates come into picture, it’s a well-known fact that they would want to justify and surmount prices on their own fancies. How will the small-scale farmers survive? They are here to change their fate and not the other way around.


The other aspect of the argument is the middlemen vanishing for the system and hence the availability of huge margins of profits for the farmers. The only difference that I could gage here is that these corporates are to become the new middlemen. Middlemen aren’t vanishing from the system, very smoothly they are being replaced by the well-dressed private houses. On the larger end, contract farmers are fearing on fact that they might turn into slaves.


APMCs are the only thing that secured the small-scale farmers. Many states had taken initiatives to liberalize the APMC acts for the betterment of the farmers. This new bill by fact weakens the system and thereof playing as a major drawback for the farmers. Point to be noted, the new laws do not by fact guarantee a significant increase in the income of farmers.


Conclusion

These worries might be seen as something small but with the attitude shown by the farmers it is definitely not negotiable for them. The legislations seem to empower the farmers in every matter by accelerating the growth, reduction in the cost of transportation, freedom of trade. The major issue being the fact that however strong the thoughts might be of the Government these new policies have some definite loose ends like for example, the Government has announced MSPs for crops but it lacks statutory backing. The interpretation can be done as it is upon the will of the Government to avail the produce at MSPs, now this fear needs clarity. These new reforms aren’t perceived as friendly to the farmers. This protest that we are experiencing can be named as deliberative democracy. If the farmers are given an option to be able to sell their produce without the well of middle men, that wouldn’t concern them until there are being provided with proper facilities to store and market their produce. Simplest solution thought of in respect to these ongoing protests can be an inclusion of a legal backing of MSPs to the new bill which shall help overcoming the vulnerability of the farmers.

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