By J.V. Lakshmana Rao
The “ill-conceived” farmers’ agitation, which has taken birth in Punjab, is spreading to the whole country with a call for Bharat Bandh on December 8 followed by a “Delhi Chalo” call. But, according to reports, the bandh was “successful” in some states, while it was “mixed” in some states and it was “little” or “poor” in some other states.
Strangely the response was “mixed” in Punjab where the agitation has begun, and other northern states like Haryana, J & K, west Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal, and Madhya Pradesh.
Surprisingly the bandh was successful in states like Assam, Orissa, Chhattisgarh and Telangana, while it was almost little or poor in Delhi, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Goa.
The bandh call was given by leaders of 13 unions of farmers with the support of 20 Opposition political parties that included the Congress Party and left parties.
In the midst of such a scenario, a meeting was held between Union Home Minister Amit Shah and representatives of farmers in New Delhi on December 8, but ended with no significant solution to break the ice.
Instead of finding a solution to whatever changes the farmers wanted in the new laws enacted in September, their leaders firmly stood on their demand to repeal the new law itself. But it was not acceptable to the Central Government and it was conveyed so to the leaders who met him. The same sentiment was also conveyed earlier to the leaders by Central Ministers Narendra Tomar and Piyush Goyal.
Again the Central Government sent a draft proposal to the leaders of the agitating farmers, who on December 9, rejected threatening to intensify their agitation from December 14. After receiving the draft proposal, farmers’ leader Shiv Kumar Kakka held a press conference and said there was nothing new in the Government’s proposal, and that it was “completely rejected” by the “Sanyukta Kisan Committee.”
The Government had said in the draft proposal sent to the farmers’ unions that it was ready to provide all necessary clarifications on the farmers’ concerns about the new farm laws.
The Government had also proposed to make necessary amendments on at least seven counts, including one to allay apprehensions about the weakening of the mandi system.
The apprehensions of the agitating farmers, include that the minimum support price (MSP) system for procurement would be scrapped; the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees (APMC) Act would be weakened in favor of private mandis and farmers can trade outside APMC mandis; the right to go to civil courts would be taken away in case of disputes; big corporates would displace farm mandis; a farmer cannot register under contract farming law; and the land can be seized in case of breach of contracts.
But the Government has categorically assured that it would give a written assurance about the continuance of MSP; the states can register private mandis and levy cess; the states can be empowered to register all traders; a provision will be made for appeal mechanism in courts; no buyer can take loans against farmland; the states will have right to register contracts; and the farmers can annul contracts without penalty and the land cannot be seized.
Most of the farmers, who are participating in the agitation, seem to be either not aware of what the new farm laws are about or they are misguided by their leaders by misinterpretation.
The latest assurances are in support of the following farm laws as passed by Parliament and signed by the President of India:
–Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020;
–Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020; and
–Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020.
These three laws have been promulgated in the interest of the famers basically to help them to get fair prices for their produce, enable better negotiating capability and freedom to sell their products wherever they would like, and avoid the role of the middlemen in marketing their produce. The law also lessen or free the role of APMCs without interfering with the MSP regime
The leaders of the farmers doubt the Central Government’s intentions and attribute that the Central Government brought these laws to help the rich and corporate organizations.
While denying these charges, the Central Government reiterated its willingness to bring changes in the laws wherever they are needed and would not alter or interfere with the MSP regime. And the Central Government is prepared to give in writing all these assurances.
The farmers’ demands originally included repeal the three new farm laws; convene a special Parliament session to repeal the farm laws; make MSP regime and state procurement of crops a legal right; assurances that conventional procurement system will remain; and implement Swaminathan Panel Report.
In addition to these demands, the striking farmers want the Central Government to drop the proposed Electricity Amendment Bill and scrap levy of the stubble burning penalty in the new ordinance. The Government’s response to these demands has been an assurance to effect no change to the tariff subsidy regime for farmers and adequately resolve the farmer’s concern about the proposed levy of penalty for burning the stubbles.
The reforms that the Government has now brought through the three laws have been originally floated by the erstwhile Congress government but could not be implemented for some reasons best known to its leaders.
With the Government now stands firmly on its assurances but declines to withdraw the three new farm laws, the agitating farmers’ groups have pledged to further intensify their agitation by organizing a “Delhi Chalo” drive; an all-India protest on December 14; a boycott of BJP legislators and a blockage of the Delhi-Jaipur highway. And the toll booths would not be allowed to levy any charge.
The people most affected by the implementation of the new farm laws are the rich businessmen and landlords. They are financially sound and have access to the abundant storage facilities, hence they enjoy market monopoly. They buy and hoard produce during the harvest season at cheaper prices, and later control the prices in the retail market. They can even create artificial shortage of essential food items in the market by controlling the release of the hoarded produce, thus they make huge profits. Obviously the losers are a large number of small and marginal farmers, who suffer at the hands of rich hoarders, middlemen and commission agents. Also during the glut, the small farmers resort to distress sale of their produce. It is here the new laws empower the farmers to look for “greener pastures” where they can have the freedom to market their produce at prices that they get fair returns. The rich farmers and landlords are trying to deprive that advantage to scores of small and marginal farmers.
Joining the hands with the rich and affluent people are disgruntled political leaders, who are under the guise of helping the farmers, are misguiding them for self-gain. If the agitation drags on too long, it will surely be hijacked by the disgruntled and political parties. Taking up the cause of agitating farmers, a political delegation of representatives of some parties, including Rahul Gandhi and Sharad Pawar have called on the President of India. The agitation has also found “sympathizers” in the UK, the USA and Canada as if it has an international ramification.
An agitation of this magnitude with a single agenda of seeking to scrap the three farm laws can only sustain for an extended period by the support of the rich in the country, or external financial help pumped by separatist or terrorist or extremist elements. Some such elements are already on the prowl.
It will be wise for the striking farmers and their leaders in their own best interest and the interest of the country to end their “picnic” exposing themselves to the cold along the highways leading to Delhi. Living in the tents, SUVs, tractor-trolleys and trucks and enjoying morning tea, three-course lunches and dinners, and snacking on samosas served by the roadside kitchens and make-shift langars, can be thrilling only for a short time.
After several decades, the independent India now has a government that is working for the welfare of people under the committed leadership of Narendra Modi. Allow it to function.
By J.V. Lakshmana Rao