Farm Bills 2020: A Step Backwards?
By: Shubhangi Mishra
“I just want to feed my family,” said a Bihar farmer as he broke down crying. Ever since the three agriculture bills were passed by the Rajya Sabha, farmers all over India have been protesting against the bill and are out on the streets. The bill has been considered as ‘anti-farmer’ by the opposition and also by the long-time BJP ally- Shiromani Akali Dal. The three bills which are The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, The Farmer Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 were given a heads up on the monsoon session of the Parliament.
The government claims that the bills will focus on tackling problems like overproduction, low crop prices, high transportation costs, high-interest rates and growing debt that have been affecting farmers economically for a very long time. The bills are supposedly focused on retaining the power back into the hands of the producers and making them more independent. The bill also has provisions to make the market more flexible and further develop the agricultural sector. While these are what the central government states to be the beneficial aspects of the bill, the opposition was quick to call out the underlying problems of the proposed bills. Our Prime Minister tweeted about how these bills will revolutionize the agricultural sector and accommodate farmers with better technology but his tweets failed to conceal the problematic nature of these bills. The farmers of our country are protesting actively against the bill due to the paradoxical statements of the government. While the government is persuading people that the bills aim at providing the best possible facilities for the farmers, their actions say otherwise.
Upon reading intricately, we see that the bill hinder the control of APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) mandis. The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 is focused on allowing commerce of crops outside the markets that are regulated by the state government. This means that the provision of MSP (minimum support price) procurement might come to an end. Since a lot of farmers survive on MSP, which is the price they sell their produce at, a deep fear of losing a steady income and livelihood has set in them. The government on the other hand has assured the farmers that they will be provided with MSP but no such law mandating the implementation has been mentioned in the bill. Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 is related to contract farming as well as direct marketing. Contract farming is based on consumer and buyer agreement and the production is carried out on the basis of this agreement. The bill offers farmers protection from any sort of exploitation in accordance with price but does not provide a framework for price fixation. This can lead to corporate companies easily taking advantage of farmers and underpaying them. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance is the third bill that was passed. The ordinance was constructed when the pandemic hit the country and lockdown took place. This ordinance removes cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion, and potatoes from the list of essential commodities. This implies that hoarding of these commodities will be legalised seeing that a license will not be required for buying and selling of these commodities. Critics claim that this is another move made by the central government to hand over the producing power to the private sector. Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur, a member of the National Democratic Alliance ally Shiromani Akali Dal, has resigned following the introduction of the bill. She claims that the bills were introduced without any consultation with other parties, state governments or professionals.
This has left the farmers bewildered regarding the government working for them or against them. It led to the creation of widespread anger and enraged farmers took to protesting on streets and rails to reclaim what is theirs. Eleven farm bodies of state called for a Punjab Bandh on 25th September. A three-day “Rail Roko” protest was also organised which disrupted train schedules and forced the Railways to cancel trains in order to avoid any harm. Farmer rights' activists claim that they stand with the farmers and will do whatever it takes to protect their interests. They remarked, “BJP and its allies clearly don’t care for what these laws will do to the farmers”. The Punjab Government will also be taking these bills to the court.
The farming community will be severely affected and dominated by big corporates if the government doesn’t look after their interests. Passing these bills means that they are under the threat of not earning as much they deserve which will not only affect their families and household but will also create other economic problems making them even more poor than they already are. The farmer suicide rates in the country are as it is high and the fall in incomes will only contribute to this. The agricultural sector needs reformatory steps for it to become better and auspicious, the farmers deserve their share of respect and income but introduction of these bills nowhere seem to fulfill any such requirements. During such a delicate time in the nation where people are dying of starvation, poor health conditions, homelessness and suicides due not being able to provide for their families, believe it or not, farmers are nothing but a shining beacon of hope just like they always have been. They need to be acknowledged and paid fairly for what they do, there should be numerous provisions and facilities for their betterment but instead what they get is ignorance, suppression and bills that only worsen their conditions. Despite playing a very prominent role in mitigating the hit on the economy during the pandemic, the value of these farmers seems to be lost in the eyes of the government.