Food, clothing, and shelter are said to have been the basic needs of life throughout human history. As we all know, 2020 was a year with unpredictable events from the spread of contagious disease Covid-19 to lock-down to the end of the year, where the Central Government passed the bills, concerning the work life of the people, who provide us with one of the necessities of life i.e food. Yes, rightly guessed, OUR FARMERS.
The Central Government came out with an ordinance in June 2020, and then, in its monsoon session of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, passed three bills by voice vote, and this was by the consent of the Hon’ble President on 27.09.2020. The stated motive of the Central Government in the introduction of these laws was to bring reform in the agriculture sector, to change the way, agricultural produce is marketed, sold, and stored across the country. The three Acts enacted are as follows:
- Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020.
- Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, and
- The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
Nowadays, if we open the newspapers or scroll down the news on our smartphones, we see about the massive protest going on, by the farmers at Delhi borders, against these laws from very next day, it was passed in the Parliament. Why such a protest? What these laws are all about, let us try and understand.
Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020:
- This Act, allows farmers to sell their harvest outside the notified Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC).
- The farmers can trade in an ‘outside trade area’ like farm gates, factory premises, warehouses, silos, and cold storage.
- Any license-holder trader can buy the produce from the farmers at mutually agreed prices, which will enable the farmers to fetch lucrative prices, as they can trade through competitive alternative trading channels.
- The trade of farm produces will be free of Mandi tax or fee imposed by the State governments.
Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020:
- Farming agreement with mutually agreed terms and conditions about supply, quality, standards and price of farming products as well as, terms related to supply of farm services between the farmer and sponsor or with the third party which can be linked with insurance and credit instrument to mitigate risk and flow of credit to farmer or sponsor or both.
- Farmers can trade with agri-business firms, processors, wholesalers, exporters, or large retailers at a mutually agreed price for the future sale of farming produce and farm services.
- The Sponsor is prohibited from exploiting the farmer by acquiring ownership rights or by making the permanent modification on the farmer’s land or premises.
The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.2020:
- By amending the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, it has removed cereals, pulses, potatoes, onions, edible oilseeds, and oils from the list of essential commodities.
Now, what is the controversy all about?
Before the enactment of these laws, most of the trading of farm products was done through APMC mandis especially in the States of Punjab and Haryana. In this market, the government decides the Minimum Support Price (MSP), even before the sowing of seeds, and the product is purchased, directly from the farmers and the decided price has to be paid to the farmers, though the open market price for the same is lower.
It was basically to safeguard the farmers’ interest, as to earn more than the cost incurred, hence most of the farmers especially in Punjab and Haryana grew those crops only for which MSP was fixed by the government to mitigate their risk.
Under the new law, the government has opened up the market for private players also, to deal directly with the farmers at the mutually agreed price. The fear in the mind of the farmers is that encouraging tax-free private trade, outside the APMC mandis, will make these notified markets unviable, which could lead to a reduction in government procurement itself. Farmers are also demanding that the MSP system be made universal, within mandis and outside, so that all buyers — government or private — will have to use these rates, as a floor price, below which sales cannot be made.
Seeing such a long protest at Delhi borders, the Central Government approached the farmers, assuring them that the MSP and APMC system would not vanish and this is not the intention of the government. But despite all this, the fear of the farmers is still alive in their hearts and mind, and they are not ready to negotiate with the government, less than the repeal of these laws.
The Farmers’ Unions are so strong-headed that they are not ready to accept the government’s offer to amend new farm laws and strongly hold that, they would settle for nothing less than the scrapping of the legislations. But in the recent developments, talks have resumed between the Farmers’ Unions and the Government where the Farmers’ Unions, listed down points to the Joint Secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, as agenda for the meeting:
- Repeal of the three farm laws;
- To make Minimum Support price, legally guaranteed right for farmers and agricultural commodities;
- Amendments to be made for the Air Quality Management and Adjoining Areas Ordinance, 2020 to exclude farmers from its penal provisions of burning crops ;
- Changes in the draft Electricity Amendment Bill, 2020.
After the meeting held on December 29, 2020, between the Farmers’ Unions and the government, the Central government has agreed to two of their demands, whereas the other two i.e repeal of laws and giving written confirmation of MSP system is still under consideration.
Seeking to pressurize the government, the Farmers’ Unions is expected to intensify the protest, beginning from 6th January 2021, if their core demands,-repeal of three central farm laws and legal guarantee of MSP are not met in the meeting, expected to be held on 4th January 2021.
The Indian farmers are instrumental not only in feeding the world’s largest democracy, but also play an active role in earning foreign exchange by exporting their produce. Let us hope that the table settles down as a boon for the farmers for the long term and the agitation comes to an end soon.