Illustration Credit: Derek Monteiro
New Farm Laws
Three farm laws have been passed without discussion with farmer groups and in violation of due process in Parliament. The government view, and that of certain economists and commentators in support of these laws, is that these will liberate farmers from their present misery. This is their hypothesis:
Farmers will get higher prices
They can sell anywhere in the country as there will be a uniform single market
They will not get exploited by middlemen anymore
Private companies will invest heavily in distribution infrastructure
The existing systems of Minimum Support Price (MSP) and APMC (state owned) markets and Public Distribution System (PDS) will continue, even though not mandated by law
Free markets will ensure that there is fair pricing and fair terms for farmers, at the hands of large corporates
Several hands-on farmer groups and agronomists have pointed out:
Currently 94% of farmers already sell outside of the APMC markets and at prices much below MSP – why has this privatisation not helped before, even if only at the state level, and why will it do so now?
Bihar, touted as a model, in 2006, dismantled the APMC and MSP system and threw open agriculture to private investments. Yet, why do its farmers still sell illegally to APMC markets in Punjab and Haryana, where they get paid at MSP levels? Why has there been negligible investments in this state from big companies?
By keeping “trade in APMC markets as taxed” and “that outside as tax free”, has the government not signed the death warrant of the former? Why would “high cost tax paid” trade happen in APMC markets? Who does this benefit, if not the large companies?
Why have countries like US and those of Europe, who have operated similar corporatized agriculture markets, failed in keeping farmers sustainable? This is despite open markets, liberal credit facilities and insurance products, commodity exchanges and all the trappings of free markets. Why has farmer bankruptcy been on the rise? Why have farmer suicides increased in these countries? Why does US alone need over $ 400 bill of subsidies to keep the farmers interested and viable in farming? Why has the entire food chain in these countries become the hegemony of a few large global players, who are now imposing another form of slavery through GMO seeds? Why should a failed system be imposed on Indian farmers? Who does it really benefit?
Why have the number of farmers reduced in US during the period of privatisation to less than a tenth, if corporatization was manna for farmers? Is that the game plan for over 600 mill cultivators that are engaged in cultivation in India and with small holdings? Who does that benefit? What happens if this corporatisation goes south and small farmers are left both landless and jobless, an overriding fear for most?
Why have the Swaminathan committee recommendations not been implemented? These included legally mandating MSP at all costs plus 50%, strengthening the PDS and making long term tillers owners of those lands. Why has every political party made electoral promises on them but not implemented them when in power? Who benefits from these broken promises?
Why have farmers not been given legal rights in these 3 laws, otherwise available to all citizens of the country, for settling disputes? Why can’t they access civil courts for getting justice? Are corporation – farmer relationships not likely to be disproportionately skewed in bargaining power, in favour of the former? Whom does this benefit?
Why have “minimum qualification criteria” for new traders, buyers done away with? How will farmers be expected to verify “credentials” of new buyers, a service provided formerly in the APMC system?
If the government is certain that MSP regime will stay, why can’t it be made legally mandatory, for both private and APMC markets? Who benefits from not having a legally mandated floor price?
If the government is certain that PDS will continue, why can’t that be made mandatory by law? What recourse do farmers have if both private and public buyers do not offer to buy at MSP? The farmers are left holding a perishable produce and will be forced to sell at distress prices, which is the experience of 94% of farmers for decades. Who benefits from this “deliberate loophole”?
Given that Food and Agriculture are state subjects, why were the States not consulted on these laws? Why were they rushed through Parliament without debate and without a due process of vote and expert consultation?
Why have the laws, that claim to be a 1991 reform moment for the farmers, not touched upon vital aspects like incentives for soil health, agro-forestry, natural farming, etc?
Engaging with Farmers
What’s the motive of the various pro-government forces behind creating this narrative – that the farmers are Khalistani, implying seditious intentions?
Why have the government leaders alleged that the farmers are being misled? Are the farmers not capable of thinking for themselves? Do they not understand their economics, their subsistence needs and their aspirations for better lives?
Why have the farmers been welcomed with water cannons, tear gas, barricades and dug-up trenches? In the midst of a pandemic? And aimed even at senior citizens? When did they lose their right to peaceful protests?
What’s the suspicion behind seeing some farmers speaking English, having smart phones and cars, and being perfectly articulate in their demands?
What’s the motive behind linking these protests to the ones in Shaheen Bagh? Isn’t this a way of “othering” farmers just like how the minorities were “othered” in those protests ?
Respecting the Farmers
They must be treated with respect and dignity and met by people who are authorised to take decisions. The government must completely do away with stalling tactics, double speak and IT cell-created false narratives
Their demands of legally mandated fair price, fair terms, continuing public procurement, widening the fair price basket of commodities, fair access to dispute resolution must be met with, while repealing the 3 new laws in their present form
The APMC network must be widened to have a market every 5 square kilometres throughout the country. This requires their numbers to go up from current 7000+ to about 50,000+
The private sector is welcome but on terms at par with the public sector
The corporates must stop pretending that this lock jam does not concern them. There are many companies who have a stake in this space – Reliance, Adani, Godrej, Mahindra, Marico, HUL, Britannia, ITC etc – literally the Who’s Who of industry. They must, either individually, or through organisations like CII and FICCI, make their stands clear on these bills as well as on the concerns of the farmers.
Above all, civil society across the nation must come out strongly in support and express their solidarity with the people who bring the food on their table. If farmers could offer langar to even the cops who were firing water cannons on them, surely we can at least make our voices heard on their behalf on the streets and in social media.
Those in power, whose hearts are yet untouched by what the farmers are saying, should consider this passionate refrain of Sahir Ludhianvi, The Voice of Man, written on the cusp of India’s freedom
Till when can the voice of Adam be suppressed? We too shall see
Till when can angry emotions be controlled? We too shall see
We too shall see, for sure, just like this, the constant oppression.
Whether we see it from the door of the dungeon or from the heights of the scaffold
We too shall see you dishonoured in the marketplace of the world
Just take a moment’s breath, we too shall see the consequences of the grandeur of Jamshed.
You too behold this vanity of power
We too shall see this by the kindness of the firm belief’s fervour
We too shall see a bend upon the dusty face that wears the jaunty headgear.
Retribution is a tradition of human history
Till when will you amass the arrows, we too shall see
We too shall see how far you will persist with your tyranny.
O sons of darkness this is the time for departure
We too shall see the morning wear the flag of red colour
You too will have to see this clamour, and we too shall see
Chandru Chawla has a normal day time job and writes at night to keep his insanity intact
Derek Monteiro is a laidback artist, poet and composer, who dabbles in jazz to annoy and disperse pesky pigeons on his windowsill