Why opposition to farm Bills?

Why opposition to farm Bills?
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Why opposition to farm Bills?  

Highlights

Farmers agitations are showing no signs of abating. Farmers have hit the streets, in the nooks and corners of the country over the three controversial farm Bills that were pushed through in rather unflattering circumstances in the just-concluded Monson Session of Parliament.

Farmers fear that they will no longer get paid MSP, while commission agents fear they will lose their commission. According to a Punjab Agricultural University study, there are over 12 lakh farming families in Punjab and 28,000 registered commission agents. You can imagine what will be the figures in other States, as India is essentially an agricultural society. These Bills can seriously affect a large section of our society, who is still farmers. The Modi government claims everything is hunky-dory about the farmers Bills and that the Congress is misleading the farmers. If that were true, why did the oldest ally of the BJP, the Akali Dal, withdraw its only Union Minister in the Modi government Harsimrat Kaur Badal and pull out from the ruling NDA?

Farmers agitations are showing no signs of abating. Farmers have hit the streets, in the nooks and corners of the country over the three controversial farm Bills that were pushed through in rather unflattering circumstances in the just-concluded Monsoon Session of Parliament.

The Modi government had promulgated 11 Ordinances, since the Budget Session of Parliament was abruptly adjourned sine die, following the clamping of lockdown in March 2020. Three of these 11 relate to the farmers. In the Monsoon Session, these Ordinances were replaced by Bills, which were hurriedly passed, with President Ram Nath Kovind immediately thereafter according the Presidential assent. These were Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

These three legislations have the potential to deal a body blow to the farmers. When farmers realised that these Bills would directly hit their livelihoods, there was no other alternative for them, but to come out on to the streets. It is a sad reality of our times that the Anna-Daata, who feeds the country, is forced on to the roads. What are the basic issues at stake? Why are farmers refusing to heed to the appeals of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the entire Union Cabinet?

First, these laws assume that farmer and private purchaser have equal bargaining power. No. They do not. The small farmer will be at the mercy of the private purchaser. In case of dispute, the machinery proposed under the law is so bureaucratic that it will ruin the farmers. So, at no stage is there any relief for the farmers proposed under these anti-farmer laws. Besides, with corporates entering the farmers market, they are likely to procure the farmers' produce dead cheap. The Food Corporation of India (FCI) buffer stocks of food grains will be seriously jeopardized, threatening the national food security.

Secondly, these new laws undermine Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMC) Mandis, the only regulated markets available to the farmers to sell their produce, without creating markets in large villages and small towns that will be accessible to the farmers.

Thirdly, the Minimum Support Price (MSP) regime will be eliminated progressively. The public procurement system will also be done away with, eventually. The three anti-farmer Bills will give full freedom to corporates to brutally exploit farmers and take away protection that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) mechanism provides them.

Now, the net outcome is surrender to corporates and traders. Private purchasers outside the APMC areas will not even pay the farmer amounts at par with the Minimum Support Price (MSP). This means fall in the agricultural incomes of the farmers. This was the same Prime Minister Modi, who promised to double farmer incomes by 2022, now ending up on a note of anti-climax, by halving their incomes.

After the issue of doing away with MSP was effectively raised by Opposition, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was forced to respond, by claiming that MSP will continue. This is far too late and an inadequate assurance for the farmers.

If indeed it is so, the Bills could have included a simple clause that the price that the farmer will get from the private purchaser shall not be less than the Minimum Support Price (MSP). This was not done. Why is such a clause absent in the Bills? The Modi government has no answer.

Farmers fear that they will no longer get paid MSP, while commission agents fear they will lose their commission. According to a Punjab Agricultural University study, there are over 12 lakh farming families in Punjab and 28,000 registered commission agents. You can imagine what will be the figures in other States, as India is essentially an agricultural society. These Bills can seriously affect a large section of our society, who is still farmers.

The Modi government claims everything is hunky-dory about the farmers Bills and that the Congress was misleading the farmers. If that were true, why did the oldest ally of the BJP, the Akali Dal, withdraw its only Union Minister in the Modi government Harsimrat Kaur Badal and pull out from the ruling NDA?

To justify its own indefensible Ordinances/Bills, the BJP and the Modi government selectively quoted from the Congress election manifesto. What is the Congress' stand on the Farmers Issue? In the Congress election manifesto in 2019, the party promised to promote farmers producer companies / organisations to enable farmers to access inputs, technology and markets; besides to establish farmers markets with adequate infrastructure and support in large villages and small towns, to enable the farmer to bring his/her produce and freely market the same.

Farmers need multiple and easily accessible markets and choices. The Congress election manifesto for 2019 promised to enable farmers companies / organisations to access technology and also set up adequate infrastructure in large villages and small towns to help the farmers to trade freely. Once that is accomplished, the Congress election manifesto promised to repeal the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMC) Act, thus making trade in agricultural produce free would have been a natural sequel. What the Modi government did was to jump the gun and hurriedly wind up the APMC Mandis, without creating the necessary markets with adequate infrastructure in large villages and small towns for the farmers to access.

The three pillars of the food security architecture are MSP, Public Procurement and Public Distribution System (PDS). As the pillars start crumbling, food security will take a serious beating. The food security system, which culminated in the National Food Security Act, 2013 stands threatened to be destroyed in the wake of the new legislations of the Modi government. Considering the serious implications of these anti-farmer Bills of the Modi government, Congress president Sonia Gandhi has issued a directive to the Congress-ruled State Chief Ministers. Sonia Gandhi has asked the Congress Chief Ministers to invoke Article 254 (2) of the Constitution. It is a rarely used Article, which allows State Legislature to pass a law to negate the anti-agricultural Central laws encroaching upon jurisdiction of States under the Constitution.

(The author is AICC Secretary and former MLC.

Views expressed are perosnal)

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