In September 2020, the Indian Parliament passed three bills which led to a nationwide protest by the farmers’ fraternity. The bills which became The Farm Acts are
- Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020: It builds a national framework for contract farming through an agreement between a buyer and a farmer before the rearing of any farm produces.
- Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020: It pushes the physical boundaries of agricultural trade beyond the premises of Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) and other markets under the jurisdiction of APMC Acts.
- Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020: Enacted in 1955, it ensured the supply of certain commodities by checking the hoarding and blackmarketing of the listed commodities or products.
Issues raised by farmers and the opposition against the Farm Acts
- Federal angle
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, has a provision for unbridled trade outside APMCs.
Also, it empowers the Centre to issue orders to states, which need to be implemented necessarily, without any objection from state governments.
- Lack of consultation
The hasty attempt to pass the bills in the parliament without any consultation has led to a sense of dilemma and dismay among farmers. By extending the agricultural trade zone outside the APMCs, farmers fear a monopoly of corporate players over the prices of commodities. They are apprehensive if they will even be provided with the Minimum Support Price (MSP).
- Absence of any regulation in non-APMC mandis
Another issue raised by farmers is the absence of any fail-check mechanism concerning the prices. The absence of any regulation seems to have left farmers at the mercy of traders. No farmer can take traders to court, in case there’s any dispute between them.
The Acts are seen as being supportive of corporate profit-seeking at the cost of farmers’ interests.
- Non-favourable market conditions
In the times of high retail prices, WPI data suggest a decline in farm gate prices of agricultural products/commodities. With rising input costs, the free market-based framework may not provide any relief to farmers.
And these fears are supplemented by the condition of agriculture in Bihar where APMCs were abolished in 2006. Multiple field interviews with farmers of Bihar suggest that the abolishment of APMCs has severely affected profits of small, marginal and big farmers. Reports have shown that farmers receive as little as Rs 900-1000 for selling a quintal of paddy, the MSP of which has been set at Rs 1,868 by the Centre.
Amid the ongoing protests, the government decided to sit on the table with farmers and put forth proposals that can clear the misconceptions (if any) as well as fill the trust deficit.
The Centre’s proposal: State governments will impose fees on private mandis.
Farmers’ objection: Creation of private mandis will start a competition for lower prices, which will ultimately eliminate the state-run APMCs. This will lead to the entry of big corporate players, which will further lower the procurement prices of farmers.
The Centre’s proposal: Government will provide a written assurance for the continuation of MSPs.
Farmers’ objection: There is a demand for employing a comprehensive Act on MSP for all crops across the country. However, the government is hesitant to bring any legislation on the issue and has found an escape route with written assurances.
The Centre’s proposal: State governments can register traders for regulation.
Farmers’ objection: The Centre is willingly trying to pass the baton of regulation to respective states, thus, running away from any responsibility.
The Centre’s proposal: The contract farming law has provisions, which allow farmers to approach courts, in case of any dispute.
Farmers’ objection: The history of contract farming shows whenever and wherever such issues were raised, corporate players walked away by giving multiple excuses like substandard produce.
Amid all the chaos, the Central government has failed to bring anything substantial enough for the protesting farmers. The farmers seem reluctant to withdraw protests while the government is finding ways to send them back to their agricultural fields with happy and satisfied faces.