Farmers have been protesting against the centre’s recently passed farm laws since the past few days near the borders of Delhi and Haryana. Farmers from Punjab, Haryana, parts of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan had launched the ‘Dilli Chalo March’ on 26th November 2020 after an intense wave of protests by the farmer unions in the state of Punjab against the three new farm bills. Their remonstration involved blocking of roads and railways in Punjab. The unions had agreed to end their month-long rail blockade from 23rd November, hoping there would be some relief for the farmers and their demands would be heard. However, when there was no action taken on the part of the government regarding the laws passed, the anti-farm law agitation began to intensify which led to the ‘Dilli Chalo Farmers March’ where farmers decided to head towards Delhi and demand the withdrawal of the farm bills. This also resulted in the sealing of state borders with Punjab by the Haryana government and arrest of prominent protest leaders by Haryana police ahead of the march as a preventive measure to stop the protests.
All attempts to end the agitation failed as thousands of farmers started their movement towards the national capital and were met harshly with tear gas, water cannons, violent clashes and lathi-charge at the entry points along the Punjab border and the National Highway bordering Delhi. Section 144 was also imposed in the state to put a stop to the assembly of the protestors. The Delhi Police had also warned the protestors of severe legal action but the farmers refused to budge and kept fighting until they broke all barricades and finally were allowed into the capital to continue their demonstration at the Singhu border which is still in progress. Numerous other state farmer unions also came forward to join this protest. There were several rounds of talks between the farmers and the centre to discuss the issue regarding their discontent against the new laws but all have been inconclusive as farmers remain adamant on withdrawal of the farm laws demanding a special session of the parliament to revoke the farm bills.
The main question here is that what has forced the farmers to step out into the cold weather, amidst a deadly pandemic and protest in arduous circumstances with limited food and shelter options. Even though the government claims that the new laws are pro-farmer, it is important to analyze the true impact of these three farm laws. Let us understand them in order to comprehend what the farmers are protesting against.
- The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020: This act allows a national framework for contract farming through an agreement between a farmer and a buyer before the production or rearing of any farm produces. The process of price determination should be mentioned in the agreement along with a minimum and maximum period which shall be between one crop seasons or one production cycle of livestock that can extend up to five years or can be mutually decided by the farmer and the buyer as well.
- The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020: It permits intra and inter-state trade of farmers’ produce beyond the physical premises of the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) markets. APMC is a marketing board established by a state government in India to ensure farmers are safeguarded from exploitation by large retailers, as well as ensuring the ‘farm to retail’ price spread does not reach excessively high levels. This act will allow the farmers to trade outside in farm gates, factory premises, cold storages, and so on. Previously, it could only be done in the APMC yards or government controlled ‘mandis’.
- The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020: Enacted in 1955, the EC act ensured delivery of certain commodities or products like foodstuff, drugs, fuel, the supply of which if obstructed, due to hoarding or black-marketing, would impinge on the normal life of the people. With this new amendment, the Government of India will list certain commodities as essential to regulate their supply and prices only in cases of war, famine, extraordinary price rises or natural calamities. The commodities that have been deregulated are food items, including cereals, pulses, potato, onion, edible oilseeds and oils. As per the amendment, the imposition of any stock limit on agricultural produce will be based on price rise and can only be imposed if there’s, a 100% increase in the retail price of horticultural produce and 50% increase in the retail price of non-perishable agricultural food items.
The Indian farmers fear that they might lose more than they could gain from these new laws as they recognize the details hidden behind these amendments. Through the implementation of these laws, farmers will be able to sell their produce directly to the private sector outside of the government mandis. The private sectors will be able to enter into contracts with the farmers to place their orders and fill up stocks of food, whose values they can later manipulate to yield profits by dropping or raising the prices of commodities as and when they want.
The farmers will be allowed to enter the open market, ‘liberated’ from the APMC and its corruptions. However, even if the APMC system is considered to be flawed, these laws will eventually wipe out the APMCs due to competition against the private sectors and ultimately the farmers will be left at the mercy of big corporations. The private corporate will then start to lower prices and farmers will have no other option but to abide by their rules. There is absolutely no way the small farmers of India will have any bargaining power over the powerful private players. Moreover, the APMC assure MSPs for farmers i.e., the Minimum Support Price which is a form of market intervention by the Government of India to cover agricultural producers against any sharp fall in farm prices. The government itself buys the crops from farmers during such drop in prices while the private sector is under no obligations to provide any such MSPs to the farmers. Furthermore, the laws provide no specification to go to court during times of disputes and only allow a three-level dispute settlement mechanism with a Conciliation Board, Sub-Divisional Magistrate and Appellate Authority to solve the disagreement, taking away the farmers’ fundamental right to approach the court.
In conclusion, the farmers’ argument is that these laws will obliquely throw them at the hands of private sector which has no responsibility to look out for the welfare of the farmers. The private players will only look out for its profits which will crush the livelihood of farmers. The MSP and APMC system can be weakened over time due to these laws which will cause more harm than good to the farmers. Therefore, they have made it clear that they will not forfeit their demands and the farm bills need to be withdrawn by the centre.
What will happen now? Will the government effectively pay attention to the demands of the farmers or stay adamant on keeping the laws?
Fundamentally, the government must cater to its citizens and if the laws are not satisfying the very people for whom they have been created, i.e., the farmers, they should tag along their demands and remove them immediately or re-establish them according to the needs and demands of farmers. After all, India is a country for the people, by the people and of the people. Therefore, the government must keep their farmers, who are the backbone of India, primarily an agricultural country, on priority before anything else.