Skip to main content

Glaring loopholes in farm bills: Suppression, rhetoric 'failing' to pacify protestors

By Ananta Chhajer*

The Modi government is facing one of the strongest oppositions since it came to power. And it is not from its biggest rival, Congress. Rather it is from the people that the Modi government promised to make the life easy for -- the farmers of India.
The seeds of this massive protest were laid on September 27, when the President gave assent to the three contentious agriculture bills that were earlier passed by the parliament. The three bills include the Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill. The three bills share a common theme making it easy for private players to deal directly with farmers and bypassing the ‘mandi’ system existing at present.
The government believes that the three bills would make it easy for farmers to sell their products outside ‘mandis’ making the market competitive and thus yielding better price for the farmers’ produce. Also, the bills are claimed to improve farmers' accessibility to modern technology and reduce transportation cost resulting in multifold benefits to the farmer.
However, the farmers are apprehensive of the motive behind the bills. The contention is that the bills significantly jeopardize the position of small and marginal farmers leaving them open to the vagaries of the market driven prices. A major setback could be the farmers not getting the minimum support price with the concentration of power in the hands of few big private players. The competitive price offered by private players can drive the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis out of business putting the farmers at the mercy of the private players and contract farming.
The discrepancy in the Indian farming sector is widely known. According to agriculture census 2015-16, small and marginal farmers account for 86.2% of all farmers is India but they own just 47.3% of the crop area. This leaves a considerable proportion of Indian farmers with little negotiation power in front of a large buyer if left in the open market which may further widen the inequalities in the sector.
The bills completely remove any regulatory oversight which might be similar to the worrisome experience of dairy deregulation in 1991 leading to a number of firms coming with adulterate milk. Even the APMC deregulation in Bihar in 2006 failed to bring significant changes with farmers in the state who were rather further hamstrung by lack of right information about the prices.
What has been even more worrisome is the response of the government towards the protest. The attempts to stifle the protest have made the situation worse with agitation gaining widespread support and intensifying the protests to the extent that farmers are looking for nothing less than complete repeal of the law.    
The government can take cue from China’s successful market liberalization in 1978, when it set up rural cooperatives and transferred land rights to farmers
“Phase 1 response of the government was that of suppression. Seeing that it didn’t work out, phase 2 is about superficial negotiation. We have to see what phase 3 holds”, says Kirankumar Vissa, a farmer rights activist.
It is pretty clear that there are glaring loopholes in the bill that government needs to fix before it can come to the negotiation table. There is mention of price information in the bills, but only as something government may do. In case the farmers lose access to the indicative prices of the mandis, government needs to ensure the farmers of alternate mechanism. Crop diversification hailed as one of the ways for improving the farmer’s condition would further be discouraged under the contract farming scheme.
In the past contract farming has led to issues like buyers rejecting the crop citing quality concerns and not paying the full amount. In the absence of regulatory framework, the government needs to chart out a proper mechanism for speedy resolution of the cases related to contract farming.
More than a mere assurance is needed from the government’s side. To start with, the government has to engage in conversations with the stakeholders and give assurance that the bills will be put on hold till the issues are resolved. More transparency on the bills and other kinds of support are needed to win the trust of the farmers. Investments in infrastructure like cold storage needs to be ensured to avoid any repercussion of the dwindling mandi system. Capital inflows into the value chain and encouraging crop diversification into high value crops should be adopted.
The government can take cues from China’s successful market liberalization in 1978 by taking small steps such as bringing in price and market reforms, setting up rural cooperatives and transferring land rights to farmers. The proliferation of agri-tech startups can make the life a bit easier and government should encourage the same for the benefit of the farmers.
It is very clear that suppression and rhetoric has not worked in pacifying the protestors. The way ahead is to win the trust of the farmers and do that with meaningful reforms. The farmers are longing to return to their fields from the street. Now, it all depends on the government’s next response how fast and peacefully that happens.
---
*Second year student, MBA, Indian Institute of Management-Ahmedabad

Comments

TRENDING

Arrest of Fr Stan Swamy: UN makes public letter seeking explanation from Govt of India

Counterview Desk In a letter to the Government of India (GoI), three senior United Nations (UN) officials – Elina Steinerte, vice-chair of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention; Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and Fernand de Varennes, special rapporteur on minority issues – have said that the arrest of veteran activist Father Stan Swamy in October 2020 marks “the escalation of harassment the human rights defender has been subjected to since 2018.”

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Farm laws 'precursor' to free trade deal envisaged by US corporates to allow GMO

By Rajiv Shah Did the Government of India come up with the three farm laws, first rushed by promulgating ordinances in June 2020, to not just open the country’s agricultural sector to the corporate sector but also as a precursor to comply with the requirements of the United States for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), as envisaged by the outgoing US president Donald Trump?

Modi govt 'implementing' IMF-envisaged corporate takeover of Indian agriculture

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak* The surge of wealth of Indian billionaires and the Modi-led BJP government’s onslaught on poor, marginalised and farmers continue to grow simultaneously as masses face annihilating pandemic of coronavirus. There is 90 % rise of Indian billionaire’s wealth over last one decade. It is not accidental.

Differing from Ambedkar, Kancha Ilaiah holds a 'different' theory of caste system

By Banavath Aravind* I was introduced to Kancha Ilaiah’s work when I was about 20 years old. He was then in the midst of a controversy for a chapter in his book "Post-Hindu India: A Discourse in Dalit-Bahujan, Socio-Spiritual and Scientific Revolution", which termed the Baniya community as social smugglers. During many of his debates, I had come to notice his undeterred fighting spirit in trying to bring up certain fundamental social issues that were hitherto undiscussed. I eventually came across some of his works and started reading them silently. I’m deliberately stressing upon the word ‘silently’ here, as this was the kind of silence particularly associated with sensitive social issues like caste, religion, etc. But, as I write this essay, I feel silences on sensitive issues should be broken. Ilaiah opened up an entirely new debate that had the vigour and strength to counter the systemic Brahmanism. His methods of research were also novel in terms of going back to the roo

New trend? Riots 'expanded' to new rural areas post-2002 Gujarat carnage: Report

A VHP poster declaring a Gujarat village part of Hindu Rashtra  By Rajiv Shah  Buniyaad, a Gujarat-based civil society organization, engaged in monitoring of communal violence in the state, in a new report, “Peaceful Gujarat: An Illusion or Truth?” has said that a “new trend” has come about in communal violence in the state, where the parts of Gujarat which didn't see communal riots in 2002 are experiencing “regular bouts” of communal violence.

Fr Stan's arrest figures in UK Parliament: Govt says, Indian authorities were 'alerted'

London protest for release of Stan Swamy  By Rajiv Shah Will Father Stan Swamy’s arrest, especially the fact that he is a Christian and a priest, turn out to be major international embarrassment for the Government of India? It may well happen, if a recent debate on a resolution titled “India: Persecution of Minority Groups” in the United Kingdom (UK) Parliament is any indication. While Jesuits have protested Fr Stan's arrest in UK and US, the resolution, adopted in the Parliament, said, “This House has considered the matter of persecution of Muslims, Christians and minority groups in India”.

A new fad in India, coding-for-toddlers culture needs to be 'nipped' in the bud

By Aditya Pandey* We are all aware of the dire consequences of subjecting young kids to intense academic pressure from an early age. In India, we have coaching institutes like FIITJEE and Resonance offering programmes for 6th standard kids to prepare them for “NTSE, IJSO, PRMO and other Olympiads”. The duration of these programmes is around 175 hours – hours that could've been spent playing games and making friends instead.

More than 5,200 Gujarat schools to be closed down, merged, says govt document

RTE Forum, Gujarat, releasing fact-sheet on education By Our Representative A Gujarat government document has revealed that it is planning to close down 5,223 schools in the name of school merger. The document, dated July 20, 201 was released by the Right to Education (RTE) Forum, Gujarat. It shows that the worst-affected districts because of this merger are those which are populated by marginalized communities – especially tribals, Dalits and minorities, said RTE Forum’s Gujarat convener Mujahid Nafees.

Consumption pattern, not economic shock behind 'poor' child health indicators

By Neeraj Kumar, Arup Mitra* The findings of the latest round of National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) conducted in 2019-20 covering 22 States/UTs under Phase-I  present a somewhat disappointing picture of children’s health in India. Majority of the experts, based on prima facie evidence, just highlighted the deteriorating sign of child health in terms of increase in proportion of stunted and underweight children in most of the phase-I states/UTs over last two rounds of NFHS (2015-16 to 2019-20).