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Din on Delhi borders: To be or not to be

Din on Delhi borders: To be or not to be
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Din on Delhi borders: To be or not to be 

Highlights

Notwithstanding freezing cold and lashing rains, thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh – most of them senior citizens

Notwithstanding freezing cold and lashing rains, thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Madhya Pradesh – most of them senior citizens - are leading the biggest farmers' uprising in the history of the world, demanding repeal of the Centre's three new farm laws that the agitators perceive will spell doom to their livelihood. This is not the first time that farmers confronted the rulers for passing atrocious laws, depriving the former of their right to get decent compensation for their produce.

In a country where ancient scriptures taught us, "Annam Brahma, Raso Vishnu, Bhokta deva Maheshwara" (Food is Brahma, the essence in it is Vishnu, and the one who partakes of it is Maheshwara, the lord Himself), it appears to be totally ludicrous that the government that represents those who consider these doctrines as their handbook prefers to scuttle the movement.

Agriculture has a long history in the country and so has farmers' resistance. According to studies, agriculture in India began as early as 9000 BCE, with crops like wheat, barley, and jujube were cultivated in the subcontinent by that time. By the 5th millennium BCE, agricultural communities became widespread in Kashmir. Peas, sesame, and dates were also cultivated by farmers during the Indus Valley civilisation, the rice being the major crop. In fact, studies reveal that mixed farming was the very basis of the Indus valley economy.

Since then, farmers in India have always been not just part and parcel of the country's economic growth, they have also satisfied the hunger of the people, kept the generation going and made the intelligentsia's and politicos' brains working.

Some of Indian commercial crops including cotton, indigo, opium, and rice even made it to the international market under the British Raj in India. There was considerable rise in land under cultivation in the second half of the 19th century where agricultural production expanded at an average rate of about 1 percent per year by the later 19th century.

Along with the growth of agriculture, came several reforms, most of them aimed at exploiting the farmers by oppressing them, imposing higher taxes on them and taking away their rights over the land. The history of farmers' resistance dates back to British raj, where several movements were waged against landlords in many parts of the country.

Post-Independent India witnessed farmers' uprisings including Telangana movement (1946–51), Tebagha movement (1946–1949), Kagodu Satyagraha (1951), Naxalbari movement (1967) and Lalgarh movement (2009).

These and several other movements were against landlords and States for their exploitation of agrarian community, seeking land rights, hike in wages, high price for produce and the like. Following Green revolution in 1960s, capitalist farmers took out a movement to pressurise the government to formulate policies to commercialise farming.

Rich farmers who derived benefits from the Green Revolution became the new power holders in the countryside. Since issues cropped up between small and marginal farmers and rich landlords, the bigger ones took side of the State and continued to exploit the poor.

Indian agriculture has, anyhow, been witnessing crisis since early 1990 resulting in poor growth of farming sector. The governments have been treating Indian farmers as insignificant despite the fact that the dining rooms of the mighty have rich spread of delicacies prepared from the farm produce nurtured by farmers' sweat.

Thousands of farmers committed suicides in recent times in Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana as they were caught in debt traps due to anti-farmer policies of respective governments.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, "You cannot preach to a hungry man, you have to fulfil his hunger first."

In fact, farmer is the one who feeds the whole mankind and of course is the direct representative of almighty. He is indispensable and should be treated with utmost respect. His produce should get adequate remuneration. He should be accorded dignified treatment.

The condition of Indian farmers, unfortunately, is not all that well.

The present dispensation at the Centre should particularly hold farmers in high esteem, as it talks too much about Indian tradition and culture at the drop of a hat. Floods, droughts and other disasters frustrate farmers in our country year after year while crop loss and debts force them to consume pesticides meant for crops.

The Union government, which is averse to understanding the real issues being faced by the farmers in the country today, should remember that fact that the great Bengal famine of 1943 during which millions of people died of starvation was not due to crop failure, drought or deluge, but because of British government's policy failures.

A group of IIT Gandhinagar experts, after examining drought data of over one-and-half a century, recently concluded that policy lapses such as prioritising distribution of vital supplies to the military, civil services and others as well as stopping rice imports and not declaring Bengal famine-hit were among the factors that led to the magnitude of the tragedy.

Today, Indian farmers are fighting yet another anti-agrarian policy by the NDA government, as Parliament passed three agriculture acts — Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance, Farm Services Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020—during its monsoon session culminating on 23 September.

Despite having huge uproar against the Bills across the country, the President signed them, making farmers coming on to the street in large numbers braving police water cannons and extremely hostile weather conditions. Only those who blindly follow the fundamentalist ideology of the ruling party came out to support the laws, claiming that they would "unshackle" the workforce engaged in the agriculture sector.

The reason why farmers are opposing these Acts tooth and nail is they will override various State Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee laws (APMC Acts) and promote barrier-free intra-state and inter-state trade of farmer's produce. They also seek to provide farmers with a framework to engage in contract farming, where farmers can enter into a direct agreement with a buyer (before sowing season) to sell the produce to them at pre-determined prices.

They also provide for setting up farming agreements between farmers and sponsors. Any third parties involved in the transaction (like aggregators) will have to be explicitly mentioned in the agreement. Registration authorities can be established by State governments to provide for electronic registry of farming agreements.

There is no mention of minimum support price (MSP) that buyers need to offer to farmers. Produce generated under farming agreements are exempt from any State Acts aimed at regulating the sale and purchase of farming produce, therefore leaving no room for States to impose MSPs on such produce.

Such agreements also exempt the sponsor from any stock-limit obligations applicable under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. Stock-limits are a method of preventing hoarding of agricultural produce. They also seek to restrict the powers of the government with respect to production, supply, and distribution of certain key commodities.

Cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion, and potatoes have been removed from the list of essential commodities. Farmers have serious concern about implementation of these laws, and they are hellbent to get the Acts repealed. The government should consider farmers case – they are annadatas. Yes, they have the right to be heard.

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