Indian farmers split over repeal of farm laws amid nationwide stoppage

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Jeera farmers of Rajasthan

Indian farmers, who called for a nationwide bandh on Tuesday, are divided over whether to accept the three new farm laws with modifications or only settle for a complete repeal, according to sources.

Farmer representatives are likely to meet the government representatives on Wednesday, after which a consensus may emerge over the way forward. The nationwide work stoppage (bandh) has only been partially successful because of the differences between the farmer groups.

Thousands of farmers have arrived in the national capital, notwithstanding the ongoing pandemic, as they think that private traders will gradually corner purchases replacing state agencies under the new laws leading to low market prices.

Security officials stepped up vigil as farmer groups held protests at border points of Delhi with opposition political parties lending their support. However, critical services like banks were exempted from the work stoppage.

Binod Anand, president of Rashtriya Kisan Progressive Association (an umbrella group of 300 farmer organisations) said that unless changes are made the new law would only end up replacing middlemen with private traders cornering a majority of the profits of farmers.

He said institutional changes need to be made such as for efficient distribution of seeds and making available quality pesticides before allowing greater participation by private companies in the farm sector under the new laws. 

Otherwise farmers may fall short of stringent standards set for transactions by such private companies, Anand added.

Earlier in September this year, the government had approved three key legislations to drive through farm reforms —  Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020.

While the aim of these laws is to facilitate barrier-free trade of produce outside the markets notified under the various state Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees (APMC) laws, farmer groups especially from northern India have rallied against them over concerns that minimum support prices will be dismantled. 

The primary produce of farmers in the northern state are wheat and rice, which benefit from minimum support prices under which state agencies procure these crops. Such minimum prices also apply to around two dozen crops in all, but the implementation has always remained weak.

Farmers want MSP to be given a legal binding as they fear that at some point of time the system of assured prices will be removed and they would be left to negotiate entirely with private traders.

On the other hand, the government has said that the new laws will remove layers of middlemen who have traditionally skimmed off the profits of farmers, while selling farm goods like tomatoes or onions at multiple prices to end-consumers.

Apart from legalising MSP issue, there are other two issues in the context of the farmer’s bill. One of them is the Sub Divisional Magistrate court being the final authority. Farmers are demanding that SDM court should not be the final authority for all issues related to the case of resentment,” said Shiv Kumar Sharma, President, Rashtriya Kisan Mahashangha.

He also said the government should create a robust environment so that farmers can access the latest technology in agro inputs.  All India Kisan Mahasabha General Secretary Hannan Mollah said they wanted the new laws to be completely scrapped.  “We are standing by our demand that we want a complete repeal of the three laws and will not accept any cosmetic changes. If our demands are not met, we are ready to take our agitation to the next level,” he said. 

Biman Mukherji is a columnist and consulting editor at Indoasiancommodities.com. He has worked for international news organisations such as Reuters, The Wall Street Journal as well as for newspapers like The Times of India. He can be reached at biman.mukherji@indoasiancommodities.in

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