India TAC Special

The Feud of the Feeders

Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri coined the slogan, Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan (Hail the soldier; Hail the farmer) in 1965 to honour the two biggest pillars of the Indian Democracy: soldiers and farmers. The former PM strongly believed that soldiers and farmers are the backbones of Indian society and their welfare needs to be taken good care of. The farmers’ protests have garnered attention from all around the world and it is a wake-up call for proper redressal of their issues.
|| Sajeeda Feroz

Farmers of India fear that these bills, although having a few positives, the negatives outweigh the positives. The bills have been filled with a few loopholes and are a great cause of concern for every farmer. The protests started full-fledged on November 26th and there has been no turning back ever since and the protests continue till this day.

Why are the farmers of India poor?

India is the second largest country in the world earning revenue through agriculture, yet 76% of farmers want to quit farming and poverty always makes its staunch presence in the industry.This is mainly due to the fact that farmers cannot sell their produce at the price they want to and the price at which they buy raw materials and sell their produce is all fixed by the “middle men” or “traders”.

They are forced to buy raw materials at a higher price and sell their produce at a much lower price and therefore see no profits. Most farmers in India are small farmers, owning less land and hence producing less crops. Having lost the power of negotiations, they are forced to sell their produce at low prices, sometimes extreme. Traders use advantage of this, levy heavy credits on their headsand farmers are reduced to the position of simply accepting what is put forwardto them.

What are mandis?

In 1960s the advent of the Green Revolution led to the formation of APMC’s (Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees).Except APMC’s, no one was allowed to buy produce from the farmers. Farmers would be given a space and a license to trade. The mandis could negotiate with the farmers and create favourable win-win situations for both. The mandi system is far from perfect andhere too the selling price is decided by the traders and not the farmers.

Mandis have to pay a commission to the states to undertake business and they also receive a cut as well. There are about 7000 mandis in India and none of them are distributed equally. In states such as Punjab there is a mandi for every 119 km while in states such as Meghalaya, a mandi for every 11200 km. Some poor farmers can’t even afford to transport their produce and are therefore forced to sell to any unauthorised dealer at a low price.

What are farm bills and the concerns regarding them?

The three different bills are as follows:

1.The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of PriceAssurance and Farm Services Bill.

Prices could be fixed through contract farming. Therefore, even if the market price increases or decreases, the farmer will receive the same cut and incur profit or losses in reference to the market prices. This results in the middle men getting cut while farmers deal with the corporation directly. But in doing so, corporates may have the advantage over the farmers by drafting one sided contracts,without the farmers knowledge and thus the farmer could be cheated.

This will also hugely affect small scale farmers as no corporate company would try to get contracts from a host of farmers and will only look towards signing contracts from one single huge body. The issue redressal will be handled by the respective Sub – Divisional Magistrate and the farmers fear that this wouldn’t be exercised well and that it could go badly for them as companies have special legal teams.

2.The Essential Commodities Act (Amendment)

Stocking Essential commodities such as rice, dal, sugar, a few vegetables, way beyond the limits set by the government could result in the perpetrator getting arrested. This is to ensure there is no scarcity and prevent hoarding as well. Today we are facing a food surplus crisis as food distribution is being mismanaged. Tonnes of food is lying unused at storage spaces and mandis and people still go hungry.

Cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion, potatoes have been removed from the essential commodities list. This will result in the prices of these commodities going even higher and the government will have to again put these items under essential commodities. It’s a waste of time. Most importantly, removing these items will lead to hoarding as traders might stock produce well beyond measure and sell it only when the market prices have increased to make huge profits.

3.Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill

This bill means that farmers have the freedom to sell their produce in any part of the country thus giving liberty to the farmers and corporates to deal outside the mandis. However, this means the states could lose commission and mandi fee which they receive from in – house farmers.

Any PAN card holder is permissible to become a trader whereas mandis have certain rules and regulations set to licence a trader. Its also a rule that mandis should pay farmers within a day whereas trading outside mandis result in a three-day relaxation.

The farm laws will not only affect farmers but also allied sectors like transport, agricultural commodity trade, food grains, consumers, food – processing, seed and pesticide sectors and fertilizers.

What is MSP?

Minimum Support Price (MSP) is a price declared by the government at which it will buy produce from the farmers. The MSP has been decided for 23 such items but the govt only buys commodities such as rice, wheat and other few items therefore giving a false guarantee to the farmers. States such as Punjab and Haryana benefit the most from MSP while the others fall way behind.

Farmers fear that if trades happen outside the mandis then the MSP would be removed on such commodities. Only 6% farmers benefit from MSP and traders don’t usually use MSP to trade. MSP doesn’t exist for some crops and the produce is sold way cheaper than necessary as there is no fixed price to compare and sell the produce.

Why did the bills come into existence?

The government has said these reforms will accelerate growth in the sector through private sector investment in building infrastructure and supply chains for farm produce in the national and global market. They were intended to help small farmers who don’t have the means to either bargain for their produce to get a better price or invest in technology to improve the productivity of farms. Farmers will get better prices through competition and cost-cutting on transportation.

Who is protesting?

Farmers from Punjab, Haryana, and some other parts are protesting against these reforms. The protest has been encouraged by a vast number of citizens of the country and many political parties as well. The bills are claimed to be anti-farmer and the farmers won’t settle for anything less than scrapping the reforms altogether. Women, children and old people have formed ties to enjoin the protest and form a vast majority. The protests have led to the loss of the lives of more than 20 farmers.

How are the farms being managed when the farmers are away protesting?

People from the neighbouring villages have been helping immensely with anything they can, including taking care of the farms of those involved in the protests, supplying them with firewood, water, food, clothing and essential commodities. Even though the farmers are away, efforts are being made to get the crops ready in time for harvest season. The farmers are taking turns and week-long shifts to get to the end of this ordeal and have their demands heard. Good – Samaritans have contributed as well to ensure the farmers are well cared for despite the freezing temperatures they are battling under. Tents for grooming, food, warm clothes, Etc have been generously put up to aid the farmers in their protests.

What have the negotiations yielded so far?

So far eight rounds of meetings and negotiations have taken place between farmer groups and the central government but to no avail. The farmers having their belief broken, demand they will not settle for anything less than the scrapping of all three bills. The centre did accept to give the consideration of MSP in writing, scrap the Electricity Amendment Bill and also make states register traders outside of their state and impose tax similar to mandis. Yet, the farmers are in no way ready to accept these offers. Instead, this has only led them to intensify protests and settle for nothing less while claiming they have been insulted.

How much losses have the protests caused so far?

According to Assocham estimates, the protests are leading to a daily loss of Rs. 3000 – 3500 crores in the regions of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh.The Confederation of All India Traders added that in the last 20 days, trade and other activities of about Rs.5000 crore have been affected in Delhi and the neighbouring states.

What could be real-time solutions?

The government needs to step up and decide prices for all crops so that farmers can sell their produce based on these prices, thus ensuring the farmers aren’t forced to sell their produce for less.

The infrastructure and working methods of the mandis can be efficiently increased and farmers should have a say in deciding the selling prices of their stock. More mandis need to be built so that all farmers have equal chances of selling their produce at a fair price.

The real-time solutions involve making farmers understand the exact legal terms of the bills and also listening to their actual demands and modify the reforms. They need to be made aware of all the legal and issue redressal procedures. The reforms should be made well suited to cater to the needs of all farmers all over the country so that no one gets left behind. This will make farmers gain confidence in the bills.

The use of modern technology and Artificial Intelligence should be implemented over a large scale to protect farmers and their crops. This will help the farmers in planning well ahead and making most of the available climatic conditions. Technology to use less water but produce more efficient crops should be taught to farmers.

Farmer trade unions need to be set up so that farmers all over the country have ties with all states. This will foster strong bonds resulting in better prices, better business and less wastage of food across the country. Sound management of food in cold storage and warehouses will be key in fighting starvation and famine.

Everything said and done, it all boils down to the fact on how both the farmers groups and the centre decide upon the reforms and call a truce. Its heart – wrenching to see farmers protest under such extreme temperatures especially children and aged people. Hopefully, the matters will draw a conclusion and peace would prevail soon at the behest of the goodness of everyone alike.

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