Declining GDP, spiralling pandemic, rising unemployment, growing border tensions with China, and now the outrage and protests by farmers against the Farm Bills, India is grappled with unsurmountable issues. Nevertheless, all the Indian television media is bothered about are a number of actors doing drugs.
While the television media is busy making actors’ drug addiction a matter of ‘national concern’, let us, the youth, choose to be wise and invest our attention into knowing about the actual real concerns of the country.
In what is believed to be a rare event in the Indian history, the Parliament of India passed a total of 7 key bills in just 3 hours with scarce members present in the house and without a real discussion; a move that is anything but democratic.
Among these 7 bills were three extremely crucial bills that were passed, which the experts believe, are going to adversely affect the farmers of our country. The three bills that have sparked protests across the country are Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill.
It is important to note that all these farm bills were passed by merely a voice vote. While farmers of India and all the opposition parties have been protesting against the bills, the Modi government has projected these farm bills as a shield that is set up to protect the farmers from getting exploited by the middlemen i.e. the mandis or markets. There are few key points that these bills mention:
- Allowing farmers to sell their produce to private companies or any other party at the price of their choice
- Breaking the monopoly of the mandis or the APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) markets which are state government regulated
- The granting of rights to farmers to enter into legal contracts with the private buyers, and produce for them
While this sounds like a profitable and attractive package for the farmers, it’s not. These agricultural reform bills are only fancy and decorative from the outside and are filled will a lot of deficiencies from within. Here is why:
- Cereals, pulses and onions have been removed from the list of essential commodities. Hence, the government and other big corporations will no longer have to pay a fixed price for it to the farmers.
- Even though the farmers are going to be able to sell their produce to the private buyers at the price they wish, they won’t be able to negotiate with them and will ultimately be forced to sell at a price quoted by the buyers (which are mostly going to be huge corporates like Reliance and Amazon). The reason being, if the produce won’t sell, storage is going to be an issue. Moreover, storage facility isn’t easily accessible to small farmers. This will lead to the farmers getting crushed under the feet of the corporate giants. Around 85% of the farmers in India own less than 2 hectares of land and out of those only 15% own large areas of land.
- There will remain no back-up option for farmers if the private buyers refuse to purchase the produce. The APMC markets too won’t comply with the MSP and will force the farmers to sell the produce at the price they quote. Even though the government has ‘assured’ that the MSP (minimum support price) – the price at which the government purchases produce from the farmers- won’t be scrapped, it is not given/mentioned in writing on the bill. This verbal assurance is thus going to turn out to be an empty promise.
- If the farmers end up signing a contract with the giant corporates and fail to produce the decided quantity due to various reasons, no credit or cooperation will be offered to them thus resulting in farmers running into more debts and becoming the slaves of the companies. Previously, even though the AMPC buyers offered lower prices for farmers’ produce, they did offer them some leniency and credit facilities.
- Since there is no protection or grievance redressal mechanism in the form of regulations, for the farmers, they will become more vulnerable than ever and will be placed at the mercy of the corporates.
- Further, since the farmers will no longer be able to produce items as per the companies’ requirement, and run into debts, they will have no other option left but to sell their land to these giant corporations who will then start employing farmers on their fields, making them landless laborers, thus damaging the very essence of a free market economy.
It is undebatable that the plight of the farmers in India need to be addressed and that the functioning of the mandis and APMC markets needs to improve, however, eliminating them from the agricultural hierarchy and leaving the farmers alone on the ground with private buyers is not the way out. Setting up MSP and binding all the buyers to buy produce not below the MSP will help the farmers in a much better way. Sadly though, even in this case, the poor are going to become poorer and rich richer. These farm bills thus are clearly indicative of the fact that they are drafted to benefit the corporate giants and not the farmers of our nation.
It is due to all these reasons that the farmers across India, especially in Punjab, Haryana and UP have come down on the roads to express their strong dissent over these farm bills. The opposition party leaders too staged protests, have asked to send the bills to a select committee for reviewing the purpose and also requested the president to not give his assent to these bills, but to no avail. The protests are going to be continued by the farmers across India till 29th September.