BY SHRUTIKA CHAVAN
Three recent bills, The Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilities) Bill, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, have seen India’s farmers protesting for over two months now.
Farmers are demanding complete rollback of the bills, passed in the monsoon session, September 2020. To put things in perspective these bills were already in effect since June 5, through ordinances. It replaced ordinances of similar names and introduced changes in the way the farm produces is sold.
FPTC Act, 2020 allows farmers to sell agricultural produce outside state-owned APMCs, Mandis. Farmers can now trade within and outside of their states to private traders. State governments are not allowed to levy market fees, cess outside APMC areas. In Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh most crop sales take place at MSP, through Mandis. Hence, farmers promptly have apprehensions that the government is trying to weaken the Mandi System by giving them more avenues. So that it can pull out of the MSP Procurement System. Once the government is out of the picture, it would leave farmers at the will and mercy of big private traders and Middlemen. Hence, farmers are demanding MSPs to be part of a legal statute, APMCs to be constitutionally protected.
It is assumed in the FPTC Act, 2020 that Mandi taxes go waste, so tax abolition will help farmers get better prices. In reality, APMCs reinvest much of this tax amount in market infrastructure development. The freedom to sell outside APMCs already exists in many states. Even before the farm bills allowed the sale of crops outside APMCs, close to 44% of products were sold to private traders in the July-December 2012 period, 32% were sold in Mandis amd12% to government and procurement agencies.
As per the central government website agmarknet 5,979 tons of soybeans have arrived in Mandis across the country as of October 1, with the average model price of Rs. 3,463 as against the MSP of Rs 3,880 per quintal. Similarly, 5,355 tons of maize has reached the Mandis, procured at Rs. 1,163 as against the MSP of Rs. 1,850 per quintal. While the farmers are aggressively agitating for MSP to be a legal right, especially of Punjab, Haryana, UP who have dealt with crops at MSPs, the Government time and again have assured them that they will continue to get benefits of MSPs, the ground reality remains different.
Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020:The primary purpose of this is to provide farmers with a legal framework for dispute settlement while entering contract farming before production and rearing of crops. The law aims to transfer market unpredictability from farmers towards private companies giving farmers stable and assured income during volatile market conditions. However, farmers are agitating as this could leave them enslaved to their lands, private companies asserting the land. Also, in case of dispute if their voices will get heard against powerful private institutions. There are chances of private companies exploiting farmers by using legal clauses and putting all liability on them. Hence, farmers want the system of contract farming to be done off.
Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, authorizes the center to regulate the Essential Commodities list. It can now regulate prices and impose stock limits of food items, in case of steep price rise due to extraordinary circumstances like war, famine. The government has removed oil, pulses,
cereals, and edible oil-seeds from the essential commodities list. The perishable and non-perishable items will be included in the list only after there is respectively 100%, 50% raise in their retail prices. It would lead to stock hoarding, further leading to food inflation disrupting life.
What else do farmers demand?
The other demands put up by farmers are to repeal Commission for air Quality Management in NCR and the related ordinance 2020, abolishing Energy Ordinance, 2020 and to cut diesel prices for agricultural usage by 50%. Farmers expect decentralization and center to not interfere in the state subject list.
Impact on Indian Agriculture
While the government is trying to give farmers long-sought free access to the market, its benefits will depend upon market demand. The Centre says the Farmers Act 2020 will change Indian agriculture by inviting heavy private investments. Also, inter-state trade will enable some states to attain food security while others avoid surplus farm produce wastage. Barrier-free intra-state and Inter-state trade will facilitate One Nation One Agriculture Market.
Commercialization and privatization are significant aspects of the Country’s growth and development. However, it should be regulated to protect its citizens from greedy and powerful private players. In order to bring private players in the picture, the government should beforehand strengthen the agriculture infrastructure by heavily funding the expansion of APMCs, linking them to national e-trading platforms, and getting rid of trade cartels that trouble small farmers.
Consensus building is the only way out; the center should reach out to all the stakeholders opposing the bill including the opposition, communicate the need for agricultural reforms, and get them on board. The proper and effective implementation of this act entails bringing all the stakeholders on the same page. The dialogue deficit on the Government’s part and trust deficit on the farmer’s part needs to resolve as soon as possible. The government should focus on giving the farmers a just settlement, as this is the battle of unequals.