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Friday, April 16, 2021

Here’s the farmers’ bills issue explained in 8 points

So once again, the issue of farmers’ plight has come to the fore. The recent passage of three agriculture-related Bills in the Lok Sabha does not seem to have gone down well with farmers and the opposition parties, with farmers across Haryana, Punjab and Telangana erupting in protest. However, the protests have now spread across the country. In this article, we shall discuss all the aspects related to this issue.

Here’s the farmers’ bills issue explained in 8 points

1. So, what has happened?

The Centre passed three Bills — the Farmers’ 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.

As per the Modi government, these three bills will help small and marginal farms by allowing them to sell produce outside mandis; allowing them to sign agreements with agri-business firms; and doing away with stock-holding limits on key commodities.

As per the ordinances brought in by the government on these bills, farmers can take their produce anywhere, inter-state or intra-state — beyond APMCs. The state governments can’t levy any fee or cess on farmers. The law also provides provisions for contract farming, meaning farmers and buyers can reach an agreement before procuring harvest. The laws also allow the Centre to regulate or impose stock limits on supply of certain food items under extraordinary circumstances or steep rise in prices.

2. What does the Centre say about the Bills?

The government claims the legislations will transform the sector and raise farmers’ income. The Centre had promised to double farmers’ income by 2022. It says the Bills will make farmers independent of government-controlled markets and fetch them a better price for their produce.

3. What are the new provisions of the Bills?

The Bills propose to create a system where farmers and traders can sell and purchase products outside ‘mandis’. They also encourage intra-state trade and propose to reduce transportation cost. The Bills formulate a framework on agreements that enables farmers to engage with agri-business companies, exporters and retailers for services and sale of produce while giving the farmer access to modern technology.

farmers' bills
Photo: Twitter

They provide benefits for small and marginal farmers with less than five hectares of land. The Bills also provide for removal of items such as cereals and pulses from the list of essential commodities and attract FDI.

4. Why are our farmers worried then?

Farmers are apprehensive about getting Minimum Support Price for their produce. Other concerns include the upper hand of agri-businesses and big retailers in negotiations, thus putting farmers at a disadvantage. The benefits for small farmers from companies are likely to reduce the engagement of sponsors with them. The farmers also fear that the companies may dictate prices of the commodities.

5. What is the SAD-BJP row over the bills?

Three farm bills, passed in Lok Sabha amid opposition protests this week, have also become bone of contention between BJP and its ally SAD, prompting Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal’s resignation from Cabinet. Kaur, the Union Minister of Food Processing Industries, was the only SAD representative in Modi government. These bills — the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill; the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill; and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill — have been touted as “anti-farmer” bills by opposition parties.

PM Modi attacked those opposing the farms bills, saying misinformation is being spread in the name of the bills. “They (those opposing the bills) are forgetting how aware the country’s farmers are,” said the PM. Meanwhile, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has said it would rethink its alliance with the BJP.

Political parties, farm organisations like Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) and big agricultural bodies like the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) and some section of farmers are opposing the bill. They say these bills will help no one, except big corporates and destroy farmers’ livelihood.

6. What is the other version of the issue?

These three bills may liberate farmers from the clutches of middlemen, also known as arhatiyas. Lakhs of commission agents in mandis of Punjab and Haryana, both the leading farm producer states, will stand to lose their control over farmers and in turn huge revenue. State governments will lose mandi tax, also a huge source of revenue for them, which is why they seem to be opposing the bills.

These laws also don’t do away with the old ones and only give farmers options to seek better prices of their produce. The farmers’ bodies are of the view that new laws will slowly end the MSP (minimum support regime) regime, and will lead to huge loss of revenue to APMCs (Agricultural Produce Market Committees), which come under state governments. They also believe that farmers could lose rights to their own land at the hands of companies if these laws will be implemented.

7. All parties against the Bills

The Congress government in Punjab has described the legislations as a “blatant attack” on the federal structure. Last month, the Punjab assembly passed a resolution, rejecting the ordinances and subsequent Bills. Apart from Congress, Trinamool Congress, Aam Aadmi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party have also opposed the bill. BJP’s previous ally Shiv Sena has supported the bills, while BJD sent them to the Parliamentary Standing panel.

8. Is this opposition nothing but hypocrisy?

While the Congress might have walked out of the Lok Sabha Thursday in opposition to the farmers’ bills, the party had included much of the same reforms in its 2019 election manifesto. Therefore, the  Congress’ hypocrisy by citing the party’s manifesto that said, “We will make amendments in the Agriculture Price Marketing Committee (APMC) Act in such a way that all restrictions on the trading of agricultural commodities across countries and across Indian states are removed.” While SAD’s Harsimrat might have resigned from the Union cabinet now, her party along with ally BJP in Amritsar in 2001 had set up an agricultural reforms committee, which sought to remove these restrictions on agriculture trade and commodities. Interestingly, it was a BJP committee headed by Modi, who was then the rising star of the party, that gave the report on the reforms committee. The BJP’s ‘hypocrisy’ also comes out in the present scenario when the party is in power at the Centre.

But the opposition is not entirely wrong. The opposition is correct in pointing out that this has been done during the coronavirus pandemic without consulting the states, which is likely to be challenged in the Supreme Court.


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