The Farm Bills were passed in Parliament on 27th September, 2020. Since then the opposition, led by the Congress have been aggressively protesting against it, despite the fact that the framework of the said bills were laid by the Congress and it was mentioned in their Lok Sabha Election Manifesto in 2019. The passage of the bills saw the exit of NDA partner, SAD from the Alliance. From November,2020, the protests gained in magnitude as some ‘aggrieved farmers’ from Congress-led Punjab along with a handful from Haryana swarmed into Delhi and have been protesting against the Bills till date, the magnitude of which led to fears of another ‘Shaheen Bagh’ repeat. Four rounds of talks between the so-called Famers’ representatives and the Central Govt. were held but in vain. The ‘farmers’ refused to settle for anything beyond repealing the Farm Bills.
Before going into the causes and the logic or lack thereof of the said protests, we first need to know what these Farm Bills are all about. The said Farm Bills constitute of three bills in total, which lay the framework for allowing farmers to sell produce directly to corporates, vide the Centre. These are as follows:
- The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020: This Bill allows the farmers to sell their produce outside the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) regulated markets or govt.-run mandis, which, as per economist, Gurcharan Das, operate as monopoly cartels and oppress farmers by fixing low prices, forcing distress sales. The mandis, formed in an era of scarcity to protect farmers have now become obsolete. This bill will provide farmers a broader choice to sell their produce at a reasonable, viable and competitive price free of levies and charges imposed by the mandis.
- The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020:
This Bill makes provisions for the setting up of a framework for contract farming. The farmer and an ordained buyer can strike a deal before the production happens. The said bill also provides for a dispute resolution mechanism for the farmers. This would provide the farmers with a safety valve, as far as contract farming is concerned.
- The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020: This bill provides for removal of foodstuff such as cereals, pulses, potato, onions, edible oilseeds and oils, from the list of essential commodities, removing stockholding limits on such items except under “extraordinary circumstances. It requires that imposition of any stock limit on agricultural produce be based on price rise. The said move will attract private investment in the value chain of the above-mentioned commodities. It will also help prevent wastage as earlier such food items like potatoes and onions were being thrown away as the same couldnot be stored due to the imposition of stock limits. The imposition of stock limits, which were earlier done to prevent such illegal trade practices as hoarding, had subsequently become a hurdle towards investment in agricultural sector.
From the above, it is evident that the Farm Bills will be beneficial to our farmers on 3 counts, as stated by Mr. Gurcharan Das, expert in the field of economics:
- Defeat the monopoly of the APMC cartels and the associated highhandedness and sell their produce wherever they find it beneficial. It might as well be considered as a fundamental right of the farmers.
- Free to store inventory, thereby preventing wastage, which would, in turn, help in reducing prices due to no dearth in availability of food items. Stock limits are nothing but reminiscent of an obsolete socialist era casting a spanner on modern inventory systems and serve no useful purpose.
- Free to make contracts and transfer risk to businessmen in deals made over a crop even before yield is made or met.
Despite the impending benefits to be reaped by the farmers with the implementation of the Farm Bills, as has been enunciated above, why are we witnessing such protests against the said bills?
As is evident from the news reports and visuals, the said Farmers’ protests are limited to the ‘Farmers’ from Punjab and a handful from Haryana and still a lesser number from UP. The protests did not cut ice with the farmers from the rest of the country. On the contrary, there were reports that the farmers who are not protesting may protest if the laws are repealed. We saw pictures of a rally in Haryana yesterday in support of the Farm Bills. Pictures were seen of farmers in West Bengal, a non-BJP ruled state rallying in support of the Farm Bills. What is causing the farmers in Punjab, the state whose farmers had ushered in the Green Revolution in 1960, thus helping India become not only self-sufficient in producing grains but also to become a major grain exporter, thus boosting her economy, protest ?
Swaminathan A. Iyer, Chief Economist with the Economic Times states the reason for the same:
- Rain starved Punjab’s farmers grow water consuming crops like rice, which lower the water table further and cause drinking water wells as well as shallow tubewells of poor farmers to dry up. The richest farmers with the deepest of wells benefitted at the cost of the poor ones.
- Punjab’s farmers indulge in crop stubble burning in October-November for early wheat plantation, thus contributing to extreme pollution in Delhi-NCR harming human and animals.
- The rich farmers of Punjab enjoy political clout and also receive power and fertilizer subsidies amounting to a few thousand crores, averaging to an income of more than a lakh/farm. In addition, they get subsidized credit and PM Kissan grants. Such a high farm income leads to an increase in land prices to such an extent as to discourage industrial investment in Punjab. This in turn hurts the not-so-rich farmers who need to support their farm income with income from other means like that from industry and services.
- The primary bone of contention with regard to the Farm Bills is the MSP (Minimum Support Price). Only 6% of farmers benefit from MSPs and they are concentrated in Punjab and Haryana – the ones who primarily grow wheat and rice which are procured at MSP by the government, something that is not done for other crops. Though the Centre has guaranteed that MSPs will continue, yet these Punjab farmers are skeptical about the same and hence want the entire set of laws to be repealed. These prosperous farmers have always enjoyed the benefit of the MSPs. However, the MSPs have an apparent problem- when it is below the World price, then surpluses arise which can be sold. But when it is above the World price, then the produce can’t be sold thus causing the same to rot in godowns feeding rodents. Such waste has been confirmed too by government audits.
The Farm Bills appear to be welfare steps for the poor farmers of India which would help reduce their poverty to a great extent –something which was driving them to take their own lives. That is precisely the reason why almost all farmers in the rest of the country have accepted it.
Besides, the so called Farmers protests appear to have been hijacked by the Opposition parties, led by the Congress, the Maoists and other ‘Break India’ forces like Khalistanis and Pro-Pakistan elements going by the fact that Pro Khalistan banners are seen in these protests, slogans are being raised abusing and threatening the hon’ble Prime Minister of India with death as also rejoicing and validating the assassination of the former Prime Minister of India, Mrs. Indira Gandhi. The US-based Sikhs for Justice (SFJ), which supports Khalistan is supporting and funding the movement, holding demonstrations against the Bills in front of the Indian Embassies abroad. Demands were made for the release of the terror-mongers accused for masterminding the Delhi riots in February, viz. Sharjeel Imam and also to release other Urban Naxals like Varavara Rao. The inflammatory statements by Punjabi singers like Diljit Dosanjh and anti hindu hate speech by ex-cricketer and Punjabi actor, Yograj Singh added fuel to the fire.
The protestors are receiving VVIP treatment with luxurious sleeping arrangements, gyms, foot massaging facilities, film shows via projectors, feasting on pizzas and various other luxuries indicating the vast amount of funds being pumped into the movement. The obvious argument against these bills is that had they been genuine farmers, then they would not be wasting so much of time in this picnic-style protest and would rather be busy with their farming activities. A video has also emerged of a so-called protestor hoping that there won’t be in breakthrough in the talks with the govt. so that the pleasurable ‘protests’ can continue undeterred.
Such activities and intentions, not remotely related with the genuine farmers’ interests make it evident that such protests are nothing but a farce and have been induced by the un-electable opposition parties to create mayhem in the country thus disrupting the smooth functioning of the govt. Since they are unable to gain peoples’ confidence enough to win elections, this is all that they can do. In view of the same, the govt’s nonchalant and unrelenting attitude in dealing with the protests is justified, specially for the greater benefit of the needy farmers. This would, in the long run too, frustrate these ‘protestors’, whoever they are since their actual intention of provoking the govt to act on them, which would help them play victim will not work.
- Farmer agitation : Use Iron fist in a velvet glove- Swaminathan A. Iyer – Times of India, December 13, 2020.
- What is the Farm Bill and why are farmers protesting against it? – Kirti Pandey- Timesnownews.com, December 4, 2020.
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