Lok Sabha on 17th September passed three farm ordinances as bills despite the protests by the farmers in Punjab and other parts of North India and the resignation of a minister, Harsimrat Kaur Badal. The three bills passed were – a) Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, b) the Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, c) the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020.The bills were passed as opposition MPs were protesting against it. MPs claimed that they had asked for a physical vote but were denied. The deputy chairman conducted a voice vote without paying attention to the protests. Rajya Sabha TV muted the audio telecast of the proceedings as opposition protested. Ignoring request for a vote, ignoring protests and muting telecast – all considered unacceptable in a democracy. Farmers’ body announced three-day ‘rail roko’ agitation in Punjab from September 24.
“The government brought these bills in a jiffy without any discussion and why did they need to bring it during the lockdown, why was there no discussion on this matter, were they trying to please some big corporates which is why they are pushing it through? Punjab, largely survives on agriculture and removing the APMC (Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee) means that the produce can come now from Bihar and other neighbouring states thereby putting pressure on the smaller farmers of the state. The farmers who are eating one roti/meal will now have to start eating half a roti because of the kind of pressure that will come in”, Bhupender Singh, General Secretary Punjab Youth Wing said.
The government has completely ignored the Swaminathan report on how to improve the condition of farmers. Not only the current government in power but the previous UPA led government had ignored the bill as well. The report had clear steps on what needs to be done to improve the state of farmers, the produce in our country, ways to remove the hegemony of debts and loans on farmers but unfortunately nobody pays any heed to it.
These Bills are designed to bring the corporates in agricultural sector and to provide additional private market setups for the farmers in addition to the Mandi system. Privatisation will also result in doing away with the Minimum Support Price (MSP) guarantee that the farmers get now. The farmer union claim that the Bills will not only phase out the MSP and the traditional grain market system but will also crush the small and marginal farmers. The privatisation also means that now that the state Mandis and government are not bound to buy the crops, the private players will eventually be able to regulate the prices on their own terms. The biggest fear which is haunting the farmers is losing the MSP. They say farming is no more a profitable avocation and if MSP is withdrawn they will not be able to survive. Some farmers say that the private proprietors will exploit the farmers by indulging in hoarding and other malpractices. The farm unions have expressed their apprehensions that by allowing the farming agreements, the big firms and companies will capture the farming which will harm the small and marginal farmers. Small and marginal farmers own less than five acres and 2.5 acres of land, respectively. Because of small landholdings in the state like Punjab they are growing wheat and paddy which have assured market due to government purchase. But when the government is not bound to purchase, crops will be sold to the private players and meet the same fate as Maize, Moong, Basmati, Cotton, Sunflower and other crops. This will push farmers under more debt and will eventually be forced to sell their small acres of lands to clear the debts. These lands will be purchased by their borrowers, who will further sell it to the huge corporate houses, who always have an eye on farmlands.After selling everything else to the private sector, the government, who proudly shouts Jai Jawan, Jai Kisaan is now selling the farmers too, to the private sector.
Effectively there are two things as to how the corporates would have an upper hand over the farmers – firstly, for an instance, there is a rule now that farmers don’t have to compulsorily sell their produce inside the APMC, which is a government Mandi where the farmers get a minimum support price and they are allowed to sell it outside, which is a large corporate that sets up a private Mandi outside. The corporates, then, over a period of time will be able to drive down the prices by basically taking over that market. Secondly, as corporate farming is concerned, if there are exceedingly large corporate legal contracts with small farmers signing pages and pages of it without being a bit aware of the details inside it, what is the farmers’ ability to fully understand the contracts they are signing and where is the sense of balance between a large powerful corporates signing contracts and the farmers!
There are more than 60% of the population who are engaged in farming in this country. Almost 90% of them are very small farmers with small pieces of land, they are uneducated, impoverished, already been crushed by death. It is an unfair system to bring in these ordinances in a jiffy amidst the lockdown without discussing, taking the opinions of stake holders, without showing the people the draft and what is in it. It is unfair to expect the small farmers in India to be able to have a conversation with the big companies who will arrive with an entire army of lawyers drafting contracts. This is not the same as in America where they have one farmer who has 500 acres of land and he grows nothing but corn from one end to another; that’s not how India works. It just seems like farmers’ rights are being taken for granted because their opinions are not being sought, representatives are not being spoken to, and the experts are not being consulted. If our farmers are not in the best of health – financially, emotionally, mentally and physically, you and I cannot have our dinner. It’s as simple as that. We need to care more about what happens to our farmers. Kindly, as citizens read about the issues of the farmers, show more interest in it, understand what the problems are of the farmers and use social media to write and talk about it. Make it more important than whatever else is being discussed at this point. That’s how we will be able to serve the farmers of the country.