Farmer bills: A genuine concern or political agenda?
The upper house of the Indian parliament, Rajya Sabha approved new farmer bills in 2020 with the purpose to strengthen the agriculture sector. The new bills have given a free hand to the farmers to sell their product anywhere in the country. A farmer being a producer of the crop knows his investment, expenditure, yield etc., so through the bills, the leverage is given to satisfying the farmers’ expectations.
Every law relating to any sector is either pre legislated or newly brought. The governments enact the bills from time to time to showcase their political performance or to solve the concerned problems. Most of the earlier legislated agriculture laws are introduced by the British to meet the demand and to cope up with the crisis that wars brought. ‘The movement for commercial agriculture became so strong that the peasants started buying foodstuffs from the mandis for their domestic needs,’ stated by Bheemabai S. Mulage regarding the commercialization of agriculture in India during the British Raj. We should also take note of the zamindari system which was practiced in the then Bengal presidency. Under this, the majority of profits went to the zamindars instead of the cultivators, ultimately filling up the pockets of their colonial bosses. A similar kind of practice still exists in many places in India where “dalals” or “middlemen” buy crops from farmers for less than the given MSP and eat away all the profits they get in the market.
From the British Raj to modern India, the agriculture sector has seen no major ups. The suicide rate among farmers is ever increasing. Many farmers face devastating losses not only due to natural calamities but also because of middlemen who scam them.
The picture below shows that 33% of farmers are not aware of the market prices of their crops up until recently. This is one of the reasons that give the opportunity to many buyers and traders to take farmers’ innocence for granted and subsequently be a cause for their losses. Only 6% of farmers are able to sell their products according to the MSP, whereas the rest 94% are still being exploited by private buyers.
As the years pass, state governments have modified the laws or bills of farmers’ with an intention to monopolize the market for their own convenience and when there was resistance from farmers’, they were encouraged to oppose the central government to suppress the issue while misleading and spreading misinformation. The central government has no absolute control over the agriculture market or procurement from farmers’ as the ball is in the hand of the state. The state governments with an ulterior motto and for the benefit of their sustainability have introduced confusing procedures to grab the agriculture products into their hands like establishing APMC yards or purchasing through government agencies like civil supplies corporation, FCI, or by other means. However, there was no satisfactory evidence of any farmer getting benefitted with the government’s procurement or permissions, as the farmer is allowed to sell in his own place or in his district only.
Non-functioning APMCs in Bihar
The state of Bihar tried eliminating the system of APMCs by allowing the farmers to sell their yield anywhere. Did this allow farmers to get a better price? The table below shows the comparison of MSPs and Market prices for Paddy in Bihar for the years 2017, 2018 and 2019. We can clearly see that private market prices are below 25-50%. This explains the situation of what happens if State markets are not active.
Aftermath of passing the bills in Punjab region
Punjab and Haryana employed MSPs more diligently, so after these bills were passed farmers’ in these regions were suspicious of what the markets will offer and how the “big companies” will treat them. This resulted in huge protests.
Bhartiya Kisan Union (Ugrahan), kept the record of farm suicides since 2016, says that there have been 1,650 farm suicides in Punjab till 2019. This alarming rate has put Akali Dal in a negative spotlight since agriculture and farmers are very important issues in Punjab.
The picture below depicts the comparison in the growth of agriculture during the UPA and NDA governments.
Opportunities for farmers
Post the bill, there will be two types of market operations. One market is controlled by the state. The state officials get to play a vital role in deciding what happens in the market. Taxes, cess, and all kinds of levies will be imposed.
The second type of market will be owned by private agents and trade cartels. They’ll work without government control, taxes, and any other limitations. Those who argue for this are the same people who advocate homogenization of everything, from language to pension.
What measures will actually help farmers?
- The states should ensure that MSP is a legal right. Without this, farmers would still face losses and be taken for granted.
- Construct more storage houses for agricultural produce.
- The reforms have to make sure that all the benefits of subsidies and other measures go into the farmers’ hands.
- Settlement of land clashes between farmers legally.
- Small scale farmers with agricultural land falling between 1-5 acres should be given assistance when agricultural loans are written off.
The truth is that the new amendment does not provide any assurance that farmers will get mentioned MSP wherever they sell. Farmers have expressed mixed feelings about the bills, some spoke out in favour of it and some went on streets to protest. The central government stated this as a historic move, but truth to be said it is labelled one of the worst moves in the country’s history which set out to weaken the federal structure of our state. Though the protests and outrages are truly politically motivated, legalizing the assurances given to the farmers’ these bills would actually benefit them.
Disclaimer: The views in this article belong purely to the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of India by Numbers (IBN) or Center For Technology And Social Change (CTSC)