TIDAL WAVE OF ANGER: FARMER’S PROTEST
Author: Shruti Lather, II year of B.A., LL.B. from Symbiosis International Deemed University, Nagpur.
"Power of people is stronger than Power in people.[i]” People of India have turned a blind eye for decades to their abysmal human rights record. Now the question is "For How Long?" It's the 21st century, and for how long are we, the people, willing to let the politicians sit in parliament and make laws that are not in favour of the middle and lower class? Every individual is well aware; Farmers are the backbone of our country, and today that very spine is being twisted according to the whims and fancies of the upper class. India is the world's second-largest food-producing nation; even then, 7 out of 10 farmers want to give up farming. In the current scenario, the bill has clearly split opinions. Prime Minister Narender Modi called reforms to be a "watershed moment" for Indian agriculture & had accused the opposition party of misleading the farmers on bills. In contrast, the opposition party has termed it "anti-farmer", & the farmers claim that they have very well understood the bills and because the Government was not successful in deceiving them, they are trying to pin it on the opposition. So, what is the truth?
How did it all start?
Most of the Indian farmers are marginal or small. The statistic shows 68% of the farmers own less than one-hectare land, and only 6% actually receive the guaranteed price support. Plot sizes are shrinking, as are the incomes of farmers. On June 5th 2020, the Central Government promulgated three ordinances in regards to agricultural marketing. On 14th September 2020, Union Minister of Agriculture & Farmers' Welfare, Rural Development & Panchayati Raj, Shri Narendra Singh Tomar, introduced the Bills in Lok Sabha. On 17th September 2020, the bill was passed by Lok Sabha, and Rajya Sabha passed the same on 20th September 2020. During the parliament’s proceedings, neither did the government highlight the potential ramifications of the bills nor did they use the platform to clarify the larger vision for Indian agriculture that these bills foregrounded. On 27th September 2020, President Ram Nath Kovind gave his consent to three farm bills. The three bills are; Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020. The Government claims the farm laws will increase their income. On the other hand, farmers claim the new laws will make them vulnerable to the private sector. In the Parliament proceedings, opposition MPs says - Farm bills are a death warrant for farmers.
In November, tens of thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh swarmed Delhi to protest against agricultural laws, responding to the "Delhi Chalo'' call given by All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, demanding a repeal of three agricultural marketing reform laws. At border points, Haryana and Delhi police tried to stop protesters using water cannons and tear gas. Farmers used their tractors to clear concrete blockades, horizontally parked trucks set up by the police as barricades. On 3rd December 2020, the Singhu Border turned into a virtual war zone. Police aimed at water cannons and multiple rounds of tear gas shells at the farmers trying to cross over. In the meantime, Delhi Police requested permission from the Delhi State government, Aam Aadmi Party, to convert nine city stadiums into temporary jails to restrain farmers. The approval was not granted because a peaceful protest is a constitutional right. By this time, the protests had spread beyond New Delhi, in Kerala and Karnataka's southern states and the north-eastern state of Assam, farmers marched & waved banners.
The 3 Farms Bills and its flaws
All three bills are designed to curtail barriers to a diverse agri-food supply chain by reducing reliance on traditional APMC-based intermediaries. Introducing a unified market, "One Nation One Market." Despite the bill's title, the bills support the supply chain actor rather than farmers. The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill/ APMC Bypass Bill allows the farmers to sell their product to any license-holder trader and not just in Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMCs). This trade of farms will be free of mandi tax imposed by the state governments. In addition to free mandi tax, farmers will have the freedom to do trading at farmgate, cold storage, warehouse, processing units etc... They will be able to engage in direct marketing, thereby eliminating intermediaries resulting in full price realization. Most Indian farmers are selling their farm produce at wholesale markets or mandis, which the Government controls at assured floor prices; now, they will be able to sell directly to private players at a market price- online grocers, agricultural businesses and supermarket chains. So, the question is, where is the problem? Here's the answer to that- Unlike the APMC structure, the new laws will allow the host entities, including traders, corporates and end customers, to procure from farmers without a license or payment of a fee which will result in opening up the floodgates to corporates who can directly procure from farmers without the interference of intermediaries.
In the long run, it will be the corporates exercising over the prices, leaving farmers powerless. If the farmers are not satisfied with the private players' prices, they will have no other option to turn to. The best example is Bihar. Over decades ago, Bihar was the first state to abrogate the act and accredit the members of a private entity to directly procure from the farmers resulting in the commission agents replaced by traders who control the prices. The Second, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020/"Contract Farming Bill" provides a framework on-farm produce trade agreements for sale and produce. A written agreement would be entered before the rearing of any farm produce, lists the terms & conditions for price of service & produce, supply, grade and quality. The agreement will mention the price of the product in the agreement. The agreement must include a "guarantee price" in case of prices subjected to variations and give an apparent reference for any additional amount over the guaranteed price mentioned. This mechanism of fixing prices guarantee price, and an additional amount will be provided in the agreement.
But there is No Mechanism for Price Fixation! The bill explicitly talks about protection to farmers against price exploitation but doesn't prescribe the procedure. This is a clear show of how the Government gives private cooperatives a free hand to exploit farmers. Critics are trepidation about the lack of resources against a legal battle with private corporate entities. "This is a death warrant for small and marginalized farmers. This is aimed at destroying them by handing over agriculture and the market to the big corporates. They want to snatch away our land. But we will not let them do this[ii].”
Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020 states that stocking limits for horticultural produce can only be invoked if there will be a 100 % increase & a 50 % increase in retail price and retail price of non-perishable agricultural foodstuff, respectively, using a base price. The base price is the retail price in the preceding 12 months/ the average retail price of the last five years, whichever is lower. This is no secret that, unlike the Government, the corporate bodies are only interested in maximizing profits. They will not hesitate to hoard, exporting or not buying the product to achieve their aim. The concept of 'Free Market Economics' might work in a county with a large export market and small populations, but it could be disastrous in a developing country like India.
A more significant problem with the three bills is not what they attempt to do but what they do not do. They lack transparency of transactions and a credible regulatory architecture. The most concerning part is a complete absence of regulation and regulatory oversight for new trade areas and new electronic platforms. Protesting farmer's greatest fear is the end of MSP and mandis. MSP (minimum support price) is a floor price at which the Government buys the farmer's produce without market conditions. Now with the end of the MSP mechanism, farmers would be at the mercy of private companies. Hence no guaranteed minimum price.
Massive Protest by Farmers on Republic Day
On the occasion of the 72nd Republic, day farmers planned a tractor rally. The Delhi Police agreed on the condition- the rally would be conducted on a 'curated route' under police supervision and with a limited number of tractors. Still, the planned events didn't take a turn as planned. Hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers marched into New Delhi to protest against farm laws. A section of Hundreds of thousands entered Red Fort and hoisted their holy flag right by the National tricolour. The BJP condemned the events and portrayed the protesters as "anti-nationals." Curiously, BJP did not complain when a Sikh Flag was raised above the Red Fort in 2014, for the reason it symbolized the defeat of 18th century Mughals, who built the Red Fort, by Sikhs. Indian liberals are upset over the series of events, farmers entering the Red fort and hosting their Sikh Flag alongside the Indian tricolour, happened on 26th January 2020 as this questioned their idea of peaceful protest. This revolution and even the organized political movements in history had unexpected twists and turns. Farmers leaders asserted that it's an attempt from government agencies to derail the protests. The spontaneity of the takeover of Red Fort is a by-product of organized politics among India's grassroots.
Ironically, Rakesh Tikait, a former BJP ally, condemned and distanced from the event at Red Fort, faced charges back in 2013 of inciting communal tension during Hindu-Muslim riots in Uttar Pradesh. Many other former BJP allies appeared to support the takeover of Red Fort. It is asserted that Deep Sindhu, an actor, had inspired thousands of farmers to enter the Red Fort & to protest against BJP's farm laws in Punjab but in 2019, in Punjab, he was part of BJP's electoral campaign. These contradictions let us see the complexities of Indian politics. The irony is Just like how Britishers didn't imagine that Indian National Congress, who initially worked as a safeguard for them will change their authority, just like that BJP never imagined their own allies Sindhu and Tikait would turn against them.
Indian farmers are deeply apprehensive of their future and so are exercising their right to protest. The Government's cheap attempts will not dampen the farmer’s spirit; it will only strengthen it. The Government had agreed to make amendments to the clause-by-clause objections, but the Unions have refused to relent. They want the three laws repealed. Today it's imperative to remember Edmund Burke's speech, "First, sir, permit me to observe that the use of force alone is temporary. It may subdue for a moment, but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again, and a nation is not governed, which is perpetual to be conquered…".
[i]Wael Ghonim (2013), author of Revolution 2.0
[ii]Sukhdev Singh Kokri, a farmer, told BBC Punjabi.
1. Hindustan time; edited by Poulomi Ghosh on Feb 19th, 2021.
2. Times now news- https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwj3tea5p_vuAhWRb30KHVpZDGkQFjAPegQIIBAD&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.timesnownews.com%2Findia%2Farticle%2Fwhat-is-the-farm-bill-and-why-are-farmers-protesting-against-it%2F689215&usg=AOvVaw2izLdCjNwdcrhkdPC5BOT4.
3. India Celebrates 72nd Republic Day, PM Modi: #RepublicDay .... https://www.novinite.com/articles/207764/India+Celebrates+72nd+Republic+Day%2C+PM+Modi%3A+%23RepublicDay.+Jai+Hind%21
Mahua moitra speech on farms bill streaming on YouTube. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=video&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjF0sWYrfvuAhUTXnwKHb0hBro4ChC3AjABegQIABAD&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DumRjAyqtvYs&usg=AOvVaw2SmhDgGIJhAQJr5fQo4nsOn