Farm Laws & Farmers’ Protest….
(A Catch - 22 Situation)
One country… One Market …. one nation, is not a new invention of anybody. This slogan was given by the ‘World Trade Organisation’ as “Whole world is One nation, no boundary but free trade.” If we are a protagonist of this slogan, why has India refused to join Regional Cooperation of Economic Programme (RCEP) where 15 nations joined hands by burying all political differences in South East Asia. The answer was ‘Chinese goods’ will flood our market where we are not competitive.’ may be a Himalayan blunder afraid of competition. The same is true of implementation of farmers laws.
Let us have a look at the farm laws, it gives rise to some basic questions:
– What was the hurry for the promulgation of ordinance to enforce these laws?
– Agriculture is state subject in our constitution, but Govt of India bypassed it by making these laws under the provision of interstate movement of goods listed in the concurrent list.
– The bill was passed by the brute majority in both the houses of Parliament without discussion and voting and presented as a trophy to offer the bitter pill to the farmers.
– No need was felt to explain it to the stake holders and Chief ministers of all the states before promulgation.
– The farmers agitation has continued against these bills for more than three months. Instead of talking to the farmers, the economic blockade was carried on in Punjab by not sending the rakes of fertilisers and coal to the state despite clearing the rail tracks by the farmer protesters.
– The farmers were shabbily treated by the Haryana government by bursts of canons of water, lathi charge and digging the roads.
– To add fuel to the fire, they were abused by the self-styled ultra-nationalists as traitors, khalistanis and a politically motivated lot.
– The available data was wrongly interpreted deliberately to mislead the people. No doubt, the minimum support price is availed on an average only by 6% farmers in India, but 95 % of Paddy and 70 % Wheat is procured from Punjab alone. Therefore, MSP is the economic back bone in Punjab, Haryana and western U.P. As the people who try to cross the river by average depth, get drowned, similarly, the average distance of farmers from Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) is 496 KMs in India, while in Punjab it is just 5 KMs. Every state has its own needs, why to promulgate this law in every state. Let states decide what suits them in the true spirit of constitutional federalism.
– Several rounds of talks have been wasted without conclusion due to arrogance and rigidity of the central government not to withdraw the draconian laws which farmers are not ready to accept.
While this game is going on, the farmers from many other states are joining the struggle. According to Sr. Advocate Mr. H S Phulka, The Bar council of India also wrote a letter to the PM that these laws as such are neither good for farmers nor for the consumers. Have you seen such a large gathering so many Indian farmers protesting so peacefully with little inconvenience to the citizens?
Infact, these laws are not new in our country. The contract farming has already been operative at certain places with a mixed reaction. It certainly needs some correction to save the farmers from exploitation by the corporations.
By and large ‘Essential Commodity Act’ favours the traders and corporations, the farmers have genuine fears and apprehensions that it would encourage the harding and corporations would create an artificial scarcity which is neither in the interest of farmers nor consumers. It has now been passed by the parliament?
The major issue is the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMC). These established markets are working well and are a time tested institution, where both the traders and farmers are comfortable to work with. The the most objectionable point is the establishment of private Markets so that the fee being paid to the APMC is saved by the purchasers (corporations). The major allegation against the APMCs is the collection of market cess 6% and trader fee is around 2.5%. This allegation of collection of Market tax is baseless as the amount collected is being spent for the development of rural roads and infrastructure.
There are two case studies: Bihar repealed the APMC in 2005-06 on the pretext that the traders have made a cartel. Everybody was free to sit anywhere without paying taxes. Consequently, neither any corporation came to establish any private Market, nor any industry came for processing. Bihar farmers were not benefitted. So, it ended up as a complete failure.
Second case study of Maharashtra suggests a mix reaction. In 2005, they were allowed to have private markets along with the APMC under government control. 18 private markets have been established so far by the traders to invest roughly 4-5 crores on the basis of given norms. The famers pay a fee of 1.05%.
These Private markets have only 22% of total share of agricultural produce and that too on two crops of cotton and oil seeds only to feed the need of ginning and oil industry. These two crops make 86% of their turnover. Above all, the corporations cannot purchase below the MSP. But the fact remains that the private markets are also being run by the same traders who are sitting inside the APMCs.
We should not forget that every state has different cropping pattern and different needs. It suits Maharashtra as their main crops are sugarcane, cotton and oil seeds. There is a concentration of textile industry and sugar mills. But it was a failure in Bihar having no industry, being land locked and away from the industrial hubs.
After several rounds of discussions, the negotiations have reached the dead lock due to the hardened attitude on both sides which is neither good for the government nor for the farmers and the nation.
Now, the matter has reached the Supreme Court, perhaps the government is trying to save its face. The game is still going on, but the farmers are in high spirits despite several odds and are determined to continue this protest.
The government of India should repeal these laws for the time being and then workout the much needed reforms in Indian agriculture in consultation with all the major stakeholders, the farmers’ representatives, agricultural economists from the Indian agricultural universities and finance department officials. Instead of sitting on a false prestige, the authorities must revise these ill-conceived laws made under the influence of a handful of big corporates and hastily promulgated without any discussion and parliamentary scrutiny. Farmers and farm labour constitute such a large section of India’s population which the ruling party can ignore at its own peril, especially when this section has done the country proud and Atam Nirbhar during the worst pandemic year and even earlier. Hubris individual or national is always condemned to fall. It is time to to mend fences with farmers and sincerely endeavour to make the Indian farming self sustainable and viable. Adopting an American and Western European model of corporatizing Indian agriculture abruptly in the midest of such a large scale unemployment and absence of an alternative avenue or a well-established midsize manufacturing sector (MSME) is neither good economics nor good politics. It is the political hubris of an authoritative and majoritarian regime born out of a politico-corporate nexus which intends to bulldoze its arbitrarily prepared agenda on the unwilling farming community constituting more than half of India’s population. Suppression or failure of this Pan-Indian farmers agitation are likely to produce disastrous. It is like killing the hen laying the golden eggs in the form of providing both food to more than one billion population and human resource for India’s armed forces which defend and safeguard the nation’s territorial boundary and sovereignty. Let statesmanship prevail over petty politics. Let me conclude with Oliver Goldsmith’s immortal lines from his “Deserted Village”
Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey,
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay:
Princes and lords may flourish, or may fade;
A breath can make them, as a breath has made;
But a bold peasantry, their country’s pride,
When once destroyed, can never be supplied.