by Tara Hebbar, Pritha Nag and Manavi Nag
August 2020 brought us the infamous farmer’s protest. The farmer’s protests have been spreading across states predominantly– Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan The protests are in retaliation of the three farm bills that were passed on September 17th, September 20th and September 27th. This is when the candle caught on fire. Since the passing of the bills, India has been gradually taken by storm by farmers (and others) protesting in opposition to these three farm bills or amendments, respectively.
But what exactly are the farm bills? How does it affect the farmers? And why exactly are the farmers protesting? What exactly are the three bills, and why is there so much outrage over them?
The Essential Commodities Act
The Essential Commodities Act was amended on the 22nd of September, by a voice vote in the Rajya Sabha (the upper house of the bicameral Parliament of India). The amendment stated that pulses, edible oils, onions, cereals and potatoes were removed from the essential commodities list. It was/is aimed at allaying the fear of private investors of regular obstruction of their operations in business while protecting consumer interests.
The act was first introduced when India was unable to sustain itself in terms of grain production. However, with changing times, the government believed it was time for an amendment. Previously, the farmers suffered losses due to increased grain production and lack of investment in storage and export which the amendment aims to reduce. Now, the stocks will be imposed in extraordinary cases, with the regulation of them being based on the retail prices. The amendment also enables the central government to add or remove items on the essential commodities list and define the stock limits.
It was believed that handing over the harness of distribution, holding and supplying of some commodities to the government will draw investors into the sector of agriculture. It aims at increasing the competition and inflating the income of the farmers.
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill 2020.
The second bill that had passed was The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill 2020. The interest of this bill is to protect the farmers via a legal agreement and ensure they (farmers) are not cheated or exploited.
Therefore, now, if a private corporation or business wants to buy from a farmer, they will have to do it through a legal agreement. This bill gives a dispute settlement mechanism between a farmer and a buyer and this bill is made by established authorities. Price assurance is the amount that the farmer and the buyer decide to pay the farmer.
Contract farming is when the buyer can tell the farmer the quality, grade and the delivery date and any other demands that are needed for the product, which the farmer will follow through The price will be established in advance, and the company/buyer will then pay the farmer. Therefore, this shows us that the main purpose of this bill is contract farming and the ability of farmers to provide products based on contracts, with big companies and corporates. The government believes this act helps with changing Indian agriculture and helping private investments. Companies and corporations tend to provide farmers with inputs, helping with preparing the land, advice for production and transportation.
What the farmers are afraid of is that big companies can dominate the legal agreement, and exploit the farmers using those same legal clauses designed to help them. This causes worry among the farmers, fear of exploitation and cheating but could potentially help with private investments.
Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC)
The third bill was the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC), which allows farmers to sell outside the APMC. These markets are regulated by the APMC usually in the form of mandis, or large marketing yards. With this bill, farmers can trade in areas like cold storages, factories and even electronically. This gives the farmers more choice to who they want to sell to because they are no longer limited to government-controlled markets. In addition to this, the government is not allowed to charge any fee for trade in any “outside” areas.
However, what has angered the farmers is the management of Minimum Support Price, (MSP) which is a minimum support price on farmers’ produce, happens in these APMC mandis. With this bill, selling and trading will migrate away from the mandis, essentially closing them, causing these marketing yards to lose out on their revenue.
Farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are angered by the aforementioned laws and are backed up by their local governments and politicians. The farmers fear that after the imposition of these laws, and the removal of the APMC, they will be at the mercy of the corporates. The protesting farmers are therefore demanding the MSP (minimum support price) in writing, so that they are not exploited by the corporations. The MSP in the history of Indian law, however, has not been in wiring, hence leaving the central government apprehensive in doing so. Prior to these laws, there was a concept of “middle men” or “arthiyas” which thoroughly cut down the farmers revenues, with the introduction of these laws made the farmers fear their relationship with the same. The reason for their protests is that big corporations may cheat and exploit them, as it can be simple to do so.
This is the first time Prime Minister Narendra Modi since he gained office in 2014, has faced so much backlash. The government has reached out to the farmers, requesting to meet and talk through this, with the farmers denying saying they want the bills repealed, and there is no talk of that. A range of national and international celebrities have taken to social media to share their opinion regarding the same protest.
The government has gotten enormous backlash, due to banning/suspending dozens of accounts on Twitter that are speaking out in favour of the farmers and in retaliation for the government. On Republic Day the farmers held another protest, driving into the capital on tractors, and storming Red Fort, Lal Qila, which resulted in violent protests of the farmers against the police. BBC reported that post-Republic Day, the Interior Ministry announced that they were suspending mobile internet services in districts around Delhi, where many of the farmers and protesters are camped out, and where the majority of the protests are taking place. The lockdown was only supposed to be a matter of hours but is increasing each day, according to CNN.
Darshan Pal a leader from Samyukta Kisan Morcha has called the government denying internet access “Undemocratic” The government has said in a statement that the parliament of India after much debating and back and forth “Reformist legislation relating to the agricultural sector”, and the reforms “give expanded market access and provided greater flexibility to farmers.” The laws also paved the way for “economically and ecologically sustainable farming”, the foreign ministry has tried to make clear. “The Government has even offered to keep the laws on hold, an offer iterated by no less than the Prime Minister of India,” The Government has stated.
It’s still unclear how many farmers have been arrested and detained, although it is said that about 60-70 farmers have died during these protests, due to dehydration, malnutrition, fatigue, and tear gas. More than 200 farmers have been subsequently detained as well as 8 journalists, during the Republic Day protest. One farmer died as he tried to breach the red fort and suffered an injury from a tractor. 300 policemen have been injured during the same incident.
A culmination of these three bills has angered farmers across the (predominantly) northern part of the country. These three bills’ intentions are to help the farmers, but many don’t see it that way, and many farmers fear exploitation, corruption and scams.
Protests have been going on for over six months, and don’t show any signs of slowing down. In a country where most of the 1.3 billion person population is heavily dependent on these farmers, it is important that governments and farmers can co-exist peacefully and the government can create and negotiate bills. We need the government and the farmers to peacefully come to an agreement, and so do you!