When the country had been having its coldest days and of course the colder nights, the wide highways of Delhi were seeing another major protest of post-colonial India. Same as it was almost a year ago (during the CAA protest) the common people, who should be in their comfort zone of home, are forced to spend their nights on the streets. And the response of the government is the same as it was a year ago “completely ignoring”. Are the three controversial farm bills namely The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 that are shown as a game-changer in the field of agriculture is true or merely a mirage of Achhe Din, just like all others dream shown to the innocent common people of India. These bills envisage to bring alteration in some of the key aspects of the farm economy — trade in agricultural products, price assurance, farm services including contracts, and stock limits for crucial commodities.
The Bills aim to do away with government interference in agricultural trade by creating trading areas free of middlemen and government taxes outside the structure of Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs). It will allow farmers an option to sell their produce directly to these new zones, without going through the middlemen and paying levies such as mandi fees. It aimed to eliminate stock holding limits as well as curbs on inter-State and intra-State trade, and establish a framework for contract farming. Also, these bills facilitate the creation of Farmer Producer Organisations (FPO) on a large scale and will help in creating a farmer-friendly atmosphere for contract farming where small players can prosper. These bills may encourage private players to finance in warehousing, grading and additional marketing infrastructure. A collective effect of these bills will help in creating a ‘One Nation, One Market’ for agricultural harvest.
These bills were controversial ab intio, as during the deliberation and discussion hour in the parliament when the bill was brought for voting in Rajya Sabha it was passed by voice vote. And when the opposition demanded a division vote, the demand was neglected by the deputy chairman of upper house Aishwarya Narayan Singh and not only this, a total of eight MPs of oppositions had to face suspensions. This incident also puts a major question mark on the inferior methods used by the NDA government for passing bills in both the houses of Parliament. This was not the first incident used by the present ruling government. After this the stubborn intent of the government was clear. So clear that they are not hearing the demands of the people for which the bill was brought, to whom who will have to withstand the chaos formed by the bill in the upcoming days.
The discussion of the agriculture-related reforms can never be completed without perusal of the series of the report submitted by the father of green revolution MS Swaminathan. Although, his reports clearly demands making the agriculture market more competitive and stress on ONE NATION ONE MARKET, the infrastructure and technological reform which can be fulfilled by increasing investment that is also said in the bill. But one thing that is also worth noting that it also specially put stress on a healthy Minimum Support Price (MSP) which is completely neglected by the current three bills.
Another question that is raised by the farmers is that the proposed bills give the priority for corporate interests at the expense of farmers’ interests. In lack of any regulation in non-APMC mandis, the farmers may find it tough to deal with Corporates, as they entirely operate on the intention of profit seeking. There is also a very big question mark on the terms of working of the private companies after the implementation of the bill. As the government is emphasizing that the APMC mandis will also work in parallel. But how long will it work without the tax that was earlier brought to them? No doubt the private companies will provide good monetary support to the farmers to increase their infrastructure but for how long period such support will be available for is also very suspicious. Thea income of farmer may increase up to double till 2022 but it is also uncertain that the support from the private players will remain constant for a very long period of time. Once they gain monopoly in particular market ,it will lead to exploitation of the son of the soil and there is not any proper mechanism encrypted in the three bills that will work for their issues? Most of our country’s farmers are either marginal or small and putting them all into such market jeopardy only for the benefit of a few capitalists is not reasonable.
The legality of the bill is also extremely suspicious as agriculture is on the state list and the passing of bill wholly by central government is against the spirit of federalism. This, any change into it must be brought only by the state but here the whole change is brought without proper discussions with any state or organizations. Apart from this, the bill authorizes the Central government to issue orders to States in furtherance of the law’s intentions.
It is also almost certain that there will be unfavourable market condition for farmers even after the implementation of the three bills this can be evidenced by the close observation of WPI. While retail prices have remained high, data from the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) suggest a deceleration in farm gate prices for most agricultural produce. With rising input costs, farmers do not glimpse the free market-based framework giving them remunerative prices. These fears gain potency with the understanding of States such as Bihar which repealed APMCs in 2006. After the dissolution of mandis, farmers in Bihar on regular received worse prices contradicted to the MSP for most crops. There is also an example of the deregulation of the sugar industry in 1998, which paved the way for private organizations to control it and this did not result in substantial growth in farmers’ productivity or incomes.
In these days of downswing for farmers, the government is not trying wholeheartedly to solve this issue as they were appearing during the Bihar or Bengal elections to attract voters. After a series of meetings with farmers, the tiresome is unsolved. If the intention of the government was good enough they would be easily provided with a legal assurance for MSP. But by seeing the speed and eagerness of the government to privatize the whole nation, the issue that can be solved soon is highly doubtful. Without healthy institutional formations, the free market may distress lakhs of unorganised small and marginal farmers, who have been incredibly productive and shored up the economy proper during an pandemic. Also, rather than opting for massive centralisation, the priority should be on endowing farmers through State Farmers Commissions proposed by the National Commission for Farmers, to bring about a speedy government comeback to issues. The Centre should also reach out to those farmers who are disagreeing with the Bills, explain to them the want for reform, and get them on board as soon as possible.
BALLB 1st year
Jamia MIllia Islamia, New Delhi