Why farmers are protesting against farms bill?

Farmers and opposition rejected the bill being anti farmer 

Farmers across India have been protesting against three farm reform bills — The Farmers’ Produce Trade And Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Bill, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill — passed by the Parliament in the recently concluded Monsoon session.

The farmers are concerned that the new bills and mechanism of selling their products will leave them on the mercy of big business and large buyers. For them, new laws will increase the role of multinationals and big local players in agriculture. Many farmers saw this as a move to corporatisation of Indian agriculture. 

The Modi government has gone for theory, which is that the farmer should be free to sell to whoever he chooses, wherever he chooses, whenever he chooses. But what freedom does a small farmer really have when up against large food processors or retail chains that buy in bulk? Freedom is enjoyed by those who have market power. The power to manipulate the market and prices. 

While farmers are protesting against all the bills, their objections are mostly against the provisions of the first. The farmers are showing their concerns that are mainly about sections relating to “trade area”, “trader”, “dispute resolution” and “market fee” in the first bill.

According to the Modi government, the key provisions of the new legislation are aims to help small and marginal farmers who don’t have other ways to get a better price or invest in technology to improve the productivity of farms.

This bill allows farmers to sell their produce outside APMC ‘mandis’ (agriculture markets) to whoever they want. Anyone can buy their produce even at their farm gates. The ‘commission agents’ of the ‘mandis’ and states could lose 'commissions' and 'mandi fees' respectively.

The farmers who are vehemently opposing the bill believe that this bill is designed to help big corporate houses at the cost of farmers. The opposition parties have also opposed the three bills, calling them "anti-farmers".

The issues and fears raised by the farmers include end of ‘minimum support price’ (MSP) regime in due course, irrelevance of state-controlled Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) ‘mandis’, risk of losing out land rights under contract farming rule, reduction in price of farm produce due to market domination by big agri-businesses and exploitation of farmers by big contractors through contract farming provisions.

The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) has announced a Bharat Bandh on 25 September against three bills brought by the Modi government for the agriculture sector. AIKSCC will organize a comprehensive resistance against these new laws and will organize All India bandh and farmers resistance meetings on 25 September. Together, on the occasion of the 114th birthday of Shaheed-e-Azam Bhagat Singh, these three laws, the new electricity bill 2020, and the sharp increase in the price of diesel and petrol will oppose the corporate advocacy of the central government.

AIKSCC has said in a statement that these three laws will completely ban the government procurement of crops, which will end the protection of the price of crops, because, after the creation of private mandis and the category of essential commodities, grains, pulses, After the removal of oilseeds, potatoes, onions, the government regulation on the prices and trade of these items will be ended.

The AIKSCC said that in all countries of the world, no country is an exception, only the governments, not the companies, protect the prices of the crops of the farmers. Companies only buy cheap and sell expensive and earn profits. 

Once a crop is produced, it is necessary to sell it immediately, or else it will be destroyed and its value will fall. The BJP has claimed that grain production in India has increased. More government procurement is needed for more grain, without which its prices will decrease further. The BJP government is working for corporate profits and is opening the entire food chain to its market.

Under the BJP rule, the indebtedness of farmers has increased and due to the increase in the cost of the production, in which the government is increasing the price of electricity and diesel and the rest of the goods companies are selling, this indebtedness is increasing.

 Now by involving farmers’ land in contract farming, companies will force them to buy fertilizer seeds at a more expensive price as per the new law. In India, farmers and landless are committing a large number of suicides, almost 2 farmers are dying every hour and the government is giving the slogan of self-sufficiency, but is handing over the interests of farmers to big companies.

The changes in Essential Commodities act will impact retail food inflation. With the government allowing private players to stock agricultural commodities freely, chances of hoarding to manipulate retail prices cannot be ruled out.

The farmer groups need to closely monitor corporate interventions in agriculture markets. It is unlikely that private firms will immediately invest in value chains or set up private markets if state governments are not aligned to the reform agenda. A politically volatile situation will deter them from investing. However, it could well be the case that food companies use services of the much-vilified middlemen while procuring directly from farmers. But farmers are unlikely to benefit from such transactions.

                                                                  Khalid Bhatti                                         

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