The Rajya Sabha on 20 September 2020, passed two agricultural bills despite huge backlash from farmers of various states. The Lok Sabha passed these bills on 17 September 2020.
Notably, the Centre had promulgated three ordinances on June 25 which is the cause of these protests. After the beginning of the Monsoon Session of Parliament, the government introduced three Bills to replace these ordinances. The ordinances are:
- The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020;
- The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020;
- The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020.
The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020
This ordinance states that a farmer can sell his finished crops to any merchant anywhere. The government will not put any compulsion to sell in APMC mandi of their own specific area. The government considers this as a part of the idea of “one nation, one market.” The government passed this ordinance on September 20, 2020.
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services
This ordinance states that the farmer generally signs a contract to sell the crops on the basis of the parameters set through his crop standards. The government believes that this may reduce the risk of the farmer. The government passed this ordinance on September 20, 2020 as well.
The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020
Now, this ordinance relates to black marketing. Earlier, the moneylenders and businessmen used to buy crops at affordable rates beforehand and store them in large numbers, to engage in black marketing. This led the government to promulgate the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 to curb black marketing. This ordinance removes agricultural products like cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils and potatoes from the purview of the act. The ordinance is contingent to not apply in the case of a national disaster or emergency.
Farmers across the country are opposing the ordinances since their introduction on 5 June, 2020.
Why are Farmers Protesting?
There are few reasons why they are protesting against these ordinances. One reason is that farmers who depend on Agricultural Produce Market Committee’s (APMC) monopoly are annoyed with these ordinances. It is speculated that after the introduction of this new system, the process of procurement by government at MSP will end. Yet, the ordinance does not talk implicitly or explicitly, whether the government will abolish the MSP-based government procurement.
They believe that the government should enact laws on support price. This would lead to increase in their income alongwith exploitation by middlemen and large traders. Further, their leaders believe that the intention behind bringing in this ordinance is to implement the recommendations of Shanta Kumar’s High Level Committee.
The aforesaid committee submitted its report in 2015 and said that the Food Corporation of India (FCI) should give the responsibility of food preservation to the governments of Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh.
The Government’s View
The government says that the provisions will be beneficial to all: farmers, consumers and traders.
The Opposition’s View
The opposition continues to allege that the new legislation will benefit only already prosperous farmers and hoarders. A huge ruckus was created in the Rajya Sabha to voice their dissent towards these agricultural bills.
Congress MP and Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad had also met President Ram Nath Kovind and requested him to not give his assent to the three farm bills passed in Parliament. Further, other opposition leaders have also asked that the bills be sent to a select committee.
Farmers’ Disappointment with the Central Government
The extreme nation-wide protests on 25 September explicitly indicate the anger and the resentment of the farmers against the Central government. Despite continuous assurances from the Centre that they will not destroy the existing system of marketing and pricing key agricultural produce – the mandis and Minimum Support Prices; farmers feel betrayed and remain wary.
The farmers’ community is still feeling the effects of the sudden lockdown imposed in March to control the COVID-19 pandemic. Small farmers and share-croppers are shocked upon seeing how the Centre is pushing these new laws. In the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 and 2019, and in recent Assembly elections, large numbers of farmers put their faith in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s and Bhartiya Janta Party’s vision.
Now, farmers are wondering why the Centre, instead of making minimum support prices (MSPs) mandatory for all crops, is liberalizing their fields altogether. Moreover, big farmers, who sow wheat and rice, do not appreciate the idea of an “alternative” to existing mandis and wholesale traders. They believe that without existing mandi regulations, howsoever weak, traders and corporate buyers, will get the monopoly powers to dictate prices.