By J.V. Lakshmana Rao
The prospects of resumption of talks between the leaders of farmers’ unions and the Central government have looked bleak even as the farmers continued their agitation, while the country celebrated Kisan Diwas on December 23.
The farmers have remained firm on their main one-point demand asking the Central government to withdraw its three new laws that the government claims to have been enacted to help the farmers. Additionally, the unions have demanded the government to revise the cost of production of agricultural produce that would increase minimum support price for produce.
As earlier talks remained deadlocked the Union Agriculture Ministry sent a letter to 40 farmers’ unions on December 20 offering the unions to fix a new date for talks according to their convenience. The Ministry sought from the unions point-wise details of their objections against the new farm laws.
But the leaders of farmers, who have been stubborn on their main one-point demand, asked the Government to “abandon its stubborn attitude” and create an atmosphere of cordiality with an open mind that would lead to a purposeful dialogue.
The leaders, who have not spelled out clearly what they wanted out of the new laws but expressed their apprehensions against the content, wanted the government to come out with “concrete written proposal” for them to enter into any negotiations. The Government has been repeatedly reiterating that the new laws are promulgated with an intention to protect and help the interests of the farmers.
Obviously the leaders of the farmers and their gullible followers have not gone through the new farm laws, but misguided by their supporters and disgruntled Opposition party leaders, are seeking from the Government in writing a list of new proposals that it could offer.
As earlier meetings between the farmers’ leaders and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, and subsequently with Union Ministers Narendra Singh Tomar and Piyush Goyal, remained deadlocked, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in his hour-long virtual address to the farmers of Madhya Pradesh on December 18, reiterated his government’s commitment to the welfare of farmers, and explained how the three farm laws against which several thousands of farmers had been protesting for the past few days, had been a step towards making farmers’ lives better. These laws had not been passed in Parliament in hurry; there had been decades of discussions on them.
Yet again on December 23, the birth anniversary of fifth Prime Minister Choudhary Charan Singh, the Government offered to address afresh all the nine crore farmers of the country on Christmas Day, which is also the birth anniversary of former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee. On that day Narendra Modi addresses the farmers.
Unfortunately, the farmers’ agitation has become “a shoulder on which the rich landlords, traders, commission agents and some leaders of the Opposition parties, are placing a gun,” to fire a salvo at the Government in the form of an agitation.
Again the agitation looks mainly confined to the areas in and around Delhi and along the highways leading to outskirts of country’s capital. Reports say that among the 40 unions of farmers that have been agitating, as many as 38 unions belong to Punjab.
That is why the impact of the current farmers’ agitation is virulent in Punjab and in parts of Haryana, and it manifests in the form of blocking highways leading to Delhi, thus interrupting the supply chains of goods and services to the country’s capital.
The impact of agitation is either minimum or completely absent in the southern states including, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
For example, in the current harvesting season in the state of Telangana, it is stated that an estimated 70 percent of farm produce is transacted outside market yards and hence the impact of the New Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 is not significant.
Therefore, there is a growing apprehension that the non-regulation of trade will impact the small and marginal farmers, who sell their produce, particularly fruits and vegetables in the farming villages where they are seasonally produced abundantly. These farmers fear and are not sure the new laws would guarantee any regulation outside market yard, and during the glut, they expect the Government to buy all the un-marketed excess produce at the guaranteed minimum support price and save them from resorting to distress sale.
Same is the situation in the highly farming state like Andhra Pradesh. Currently, fruits, green leafy vegetables, okra, cabbage, cauliflower, beans, including tomatoes are produced abundantly. While tomatoes are sold by farmers at around one rupee a kilo at the farm to save on labor and transport costs, the same produce is passed through the hands of commission agents and traders, and is sold at 30 rupees a kilo in cities like Hyderabad. This sort of transaction fattens the pockets of middlemen, agents and traders, leaving the farmer poor. During such a scenario, the government should come to the rescue of the farmers against their distress sale, and the new laws are expected to give such protection to the farmers.
This is just one example. There could be many other reasons the small and medium farmers have been facing in the purchase of inputs like subsidized quality seeds, fertilizers and pesticides.
Understandably all these problems have been thoroughly studied in the Swaminathan Commission report and the reforms have been included in the three laws.
Narendra Modi, in his speech on December 18, said that the welfare of the farmers was the utmost priority of his Government. Farmers should not believe the lies being spread over the new farm laws, and added: “But still after all these changes, if our farmers have any concern, we will bow our heads in front of them and will listen to what they have to say. Their benefit is our utmost priority.”
He said that the Opposition parties intentionally did not work on the Swaminathan Commission recommendations. He slammed the Opposition parties, and allayed the rumors around the farm laws and compared his Government’s agriculture report card with that of the previous government.
However, surprisingly, Rahul Gandhi, former president of the Congress Party, whose party had failed to implement the Swaminathan Commission recommendations, now offers to support the agitating farmers in the fight against the Modi government.
But Narendra Modi said: “I don’t think they have a problem with the farm reforms. They have problems with the fact that what they promised and could not deliver has been now done by Modi.” In fact the farmers organized an agitation under various umbrella groups, on June 1, 2018, demanding implementation of recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission.
The Swaminathan Commission had identified certain causes for farm distress. These are:
Unfinished agenda in land reform; Quantity and quality of water; Technology fatigue;
Access, adequacy and timeliness of institutional credit; Opportunities for assured and remunerative marketing; and Adverse meteorological factors aggravate these problems.
The commission had concluded that farmers needed to have assured access and control over basic resources including land, water, bio-resources, credit and insurance, technology and knowledge management, and markets.
The Swaminathan Commission had also made the following suggestions:
— To distribute ceiling-surplus and waste land among farmers: The share of the bottom half of the rural households in the total land ownership was only 3 percent and the top 10 percent was as high as 54 percent. One of the demands of the agitating farmers is that they should be made the owner of the land they have been tilling for years.
— To prevent diversion of prime agricultural land and forest to corporate sector for non-agricultural purposes;
— To ensure grazing rights and seasonal access to forests to tribals and pastoralists, and access to common property resources;
— To establish a National Land Use Advisory Service: This would have the capacity to link land use decisions with ecological meteorological and marketing factors on a location and season-specific basis;
— To set up a mechanism to regulate the sale of agricultural land, based on quantum of land, nature of proposed use and category of buyer; and
–To give farmers a minimum support price at 50 percent profit above the cost of production.
Those, who are spearheading the farmers’ agitation against the new farm laws, should first study clear the various clauses in them and include their own reasonable demands to help the farmers, particularly the small and marginal farmers.
The Modi government also promises its support to such demands for the welfare of toiling farmers of the country. In this effort there is no room for politicizing the issues and continuing the agitation when the country is facing several other major issues, that include tackling the Covid-19 pandemic and the excesses on the border by neighboring countries. The farmers should end the stalemate and allow the government to function for development of the country.
By J.V. Lakshmana Rao