Farmers in India divided over way forward on protests over key laws

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An influential section of farmers group has reiterated their demand for legal guarantees for minimum support prices (MSPs) and repeal of three key legislations for withdrawing their protest while another moderate section urged a dialogue with the government.

Yogendra Yadav, leader of Swaraj India, rejected any amendments to resolve the issue. He said the calculation of MSPs should be changed, which would effectively increase the assured prices.

However, another group said that they had urged their colleagues on a sit down protest at Singhu border of the national capital Delhi to abandon their protest and seek a resolution.

“The farmers brethren are under great stress and CNRI (Confederation of NGOs of Rural India) is going to do nationwide consultation until 13 February 2021 with the help of its 7000 NGOs network.,” said a farmer leader, who did not want to be identified.

Indian government officials met with representatives of farmer union groups on Wednesday in a fresh attempt to resolve their objections on three key farm laws.

Divergent voices have emerged over the issues with one section leaning towards a speedy resolution of the dispute while another maintaining their demand for a complete repeal of the laws. 

Sanjay Nath Singh, president of the All India Farmers Association, said that the recent reforms introduced through the farm laws had been on the manifesto of most political parties, but the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s decision to push them through without consultations had raised apprehensions among farmers.

Vested interests

He said “vested interests” and opposition political parties had seized upon this window of opportunity to demand for a complete abolition, though farmers have been asking for many of the changes proposed under the reforms.

Singh said the best had to be made out of the changes proposed through a process of dialogue and the government had indicated they were willing to modify certain sections.

On the other hand, another farmer leader Vasantdada Patil said that it was baffling that the government had not shown any willingness to provide legal guarantees for Minimum Support Prices (MSP) offered on about two dozen crops in the absence of which farmers were suffering terribly.

He cited the example of corn for which the government had fixed an MSP of 1,850 rupees per 100 kilograms, but farmers were not able to realise market prices of no more than 1,200-1,300 rupees.

Patil said that the farmer distress had reached sky-high with as many as 400,000 suicides annually in the state of Maharashtra alone, which is a number that continues to rise.

“On the other hand, when prices of onions shoot up, the government imposes an export cap. Where is the justice for farmers,” he added.

Farmer groups say that three key legislations approved by the government in September would result in private businesses taking over the procurement process of their produce from estate-run agencies at minimum support prices, or assured prices, offered on certain staples.

They are also asking for a modification in the dispute resolution process over contracts with businessmen which currently limit the appeal process to the office of Sub Divisional Magistrate and not any higher courts.

On the other hand, government officials say that the new laws will free farmers from the clutches of middlemen who take away a lion’s share of their profits as well as enable them to sell their produce anywhere in the country — a freedom that did not exist under previous laws.

Though the farm sector accounts for nearly half of India’s workforce, it has seen one of the slowest growth since the country launched economic reforms around three decades ago.

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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