Anti-Farmer Act is testimony of ‘despotic’ rule in India

Chanchal Manohar Singh | October 22, 2020 05:37 PM
Haryana farmers protesting
Chanchal Manohar Singh

Farmers in India have been protesting fervently ever since three controversial farm bills were passed without much debate in Parliament. President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent for the three contentious bills despite intensifying protests across the country by farmers and opposition political parties.

The manner in which these three farm bills were passed in the Upper House of the Indian Parliament (Rajya Sabha) has been the bone of contention and perhaps evidence of how democratic values have been trampled under the present dispensation of Narendra Modi. To the surprise of the nation, the speaker of the house, who is supposed to be neutral and unbiased, was seen as party to the government’s ‘mischief’. The speaker with all impunity overlooked the demand of the opposition for division to seek voting on the issue. He declared the bills passed, citing that no opposition leader was present in the house at the time of passing of these bills, though this lie was immediately busted by the footage of the State sponsored Rajya Sabha TV, wherein a couple of opposition leaders were apparently seen shouting against the undemocratic process.

 Mukesh Ambani, Reliance Group, Mumbai and Gautam Adani, Chairman, Adani Enterprise, Multinational Company based in Ahmedabad, is a Gujarati. These two corporate houses have been financing the BJP elections in the country totally ignoring Indian National Congress (INC) and other parties.

One can understand the compulsion of the Modi government to bring in three new farms act making agriculture sale purchase trade pro-corporate, where the small farmers would be seen losing ground.

The Bills aim to change the way agricultural produce is marketed, sold and stored across the country. They were then passed by voice vote in both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha during the delayed monsoon session this month, despite vociferous Opposition protest. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, allows farmers to sell their harvest outside the notified Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis without paying any State taxes or fees. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, facilitates contract farming and direct marketing. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, deregulates the production, storage, movement and sale of several major foodstuffs, including cereals, pulses, edible oils and onion, except in the case of extraordinary circumstances. The government hopes the new laws will provide farmers with more choice, with competition leading to better prices, as well as ushering in a surge of private investment in agricultural marketing, processing and infrastructure. 

The way the Modi government has rolled the important issues, without consulting the opposition or the stakeholders to whom these decisions will affect, is indicative that the democratic system has been derailed to suit the whims and wishes of the ruling BJP government.

Punjab Farmers Rail Roko protests

One of the major concerns raised by regional political parties and non-BJP State governments is that agriculture falls in the State list, arguing that the Centre should not be making legislation on this subject at all. They are concerned about the loss of revenue from mandi taxes and fees, which currently range from 8.5% in Punjab to less than 1% in some States.

Three months back the government suddenly issued three farm bills in the form of three ordinances for implementation. Then, it remained silent on the issue and reacted only in support of the bills when farmers’ originations started protesting all over the country.

Now, the agricultural (produce) has also been brought under free trade. One does not need any license or permission to trade in wheat and paddy (before shuffling out rice) and other 20 items like oil seeds of maize which were earlier covered under the government Minimum Support Price (MSP). Farmers will not be bound to sell their produce in mandis or only in the jurisdiction of the state. Corporate sector, which now has freedom to buy from outside the mandi, would also purchase at its own marked rates.

Some economists and activists say both Punjab and Rajasthan are considering legal measures to expand the bounds of their APMC mandi yards to ensure that they can continue collecting taxes on all agricultural trade within their State’s borders. States such as Chhattisgarh and Odisha have only seen procurement increase over the last five years, after the implementation of decentralised procurement. Paddy farming has received a major boost with procurement at MSPs and farmers fear their newly assured incomes are at stake.

Another dangerous dimension that has been added in these bills is that there is no limit to hoarding agriculture outputs including wheat and paddy because these have been removed from the list of essential items. In addition to two main staple food items -Wheat and Rice- of the Indians, whether one is rich or poor, oil-seeds and vegetables have also been taken out of the protection essential commodities act.  Hoarding by big corporations and big and small traders would impact the prices of food grains. The Indian traders is known for his unethical trade believes to become rich overnight. With the protection under essential service Act, the profiters and hoarders would now have hay days in India.

The protesting farmers fear that powerful investors would bind them to unfavorable contracts drafted by big corporate law firms, with liability clauses that would be beyond the understanding of poor farmers in most cases. The farmers lack marketing skills and do not have the capacity to hold their produce even for a day. Under such circumstances in the absence of the Government support under the MSP system, they would be compelled to sell their produce according to the play of the market forces.

Farmers also have apprehension that they will not be paid even the Minimum Support Price (MSP) fixed by the government and be exploited. Calling the new system "anti-farmer", they have demanded that the laws be repealed. Over the last few weeks, huge farmers' protests have been held over the new farms’ laws, especially in Punjab and Haryana, and states that are in fact the grain bowl of the country.

However, the Agriculture Minister has told Parliament that the new laws have absolutely nothing to do with MSP. That is literally a true fact! Yet, he said that the government will ‘guarantee’ MSP to the farmers. It was a bizarre promise. How will the government know which farmer sold what produce to which purchaser? If the intention was to make MSP mandatory in every private transaction, why did the Bills not contain a clause that the price paid to the farmer by the purchaser shall not be less than the notified MSP?

India is signatory to the various agreements of GATT and WTO, which ask for withdrawal of all the subsidies to the farmers. Also introduce free trade in agriculture produce. The US is another country that has been pressurising India to follow the WTO guidelines.

Important moot point here is that the prima facie in the matter shows that the government passed these bills in a jiffy, apparently due to the interest of two Indian corporate houses run by Mukesh Ambani and Adani in agricultural produce. Mukesh Ambani has only recently purchased a few chains of grocery stores from his Indian competitors. He already had a chain of stores like Sears Store where buyers would get everything. His Reliance Fresh is already running a chain of stores all over the country that sells groceries known as Reliance Forte, vegetables, fruits, and other daily needs items. His company will be one of the corporations to make a direct entry into the market for the purchase of agricultural products, without any interference from managements of various mandis spread all over the country. Mukesh Ambani has announced that his store would give grocery and other items at 5 percent less than MRP mentioned on the goods packets.

But, Adani (Adani Agri Logistics Limited), another corporate from Gujarat, is going to purchase both wheat and paddy from the open markets. He has built his chain of Silos in the country connecting all important cities and ports. Rail tracks have been laid to connect all Silos of the Adani Group. In Punjab alone, he has established one of the country’s biggest Silos in Moga (District Headquarter) just close to Moga Railway Station. Moga is the country's biggest wheat mandi and has the number one position in sale of wheat and paddy, followed by Khanna, Punjab. Even before the start of this Silo, the Adani has raised its capacity from 40,000 bags to Two lakh Metric Tons. It is a state-of-the-art Silo where everything from filling of bags to loading in the Rail-rake will be automatic, without any human assistance. Other important cities where Adani’s have also been established Silos are Chennai, Bengaluru, Coimbatore, and a few other cities.  These cities have already been connected with Adani dedicated rakes’ service.

 Mukesh Ambani, Reliance Group, Mumbai and Gautam Adani, Chairman, Adani Enterprise, Multinational Company based in Ahmedabad, is a Gujarati. These two corporate houses have been financing the BJP elections in the country totally ignoring Indian National Congress (INC) and other parties.

One can understand the compulsion of the Modi government to bring in three new farms act making agriculture sale purchase trade pro-corporate, where the small farmers would be seen losing ground. Just as we know the demonetization was a disaster and economic mismanagement since 2017-18 is a continuing catastrophe for the country, these three farm laws will debilitate the Indian farming community and the agricultural economy.

The writer is a senior journalist and Indo-Pak peace activist


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