Corporatisation of Peasant Agriculture: Freedom for Agro-Business, Slavery for Peasantry
‘It is a historic day today for agriculture. The country gained freedom in 1947, but farmers are getting freedom through this ordinance,” union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said during a press conference on June 3. This is the manner how the RSS led syndicate used to rollout their propaganda. On that day the BJP-led Narendra Modi cabinet has adopted three ordinances – 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, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance 2020. These are part of the package announced by the prime minister for an “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (self-reliant India). All the mainstream media carried the headline “freedom” for the farmers to ‘sell their produce to anybody at any price’. The reality is “freedom to the corporates to purchase any produce from any farmer at any price”.
Let us examine the provisos that ensure ‘freedom to sell the produces with assured price’. In the F (E&P) APAFS Ordinance, chapter 2, section 5 deals with the pricing of farm produce and claims ‘guaranteed price to farm produces’ but does not stipulate that the price should not be below MSP. It is not even guaranteeing the price given at APMC. Nowhere in the ordinance there is any mention of MSP and of C2+50% as being demanded by the peasantry and promised by BJP in its election Manifesto of 2014.
It is not the restrictions in marketing that is causing distress to farmers; it is rather the absence of remunerative prices that is leading to distress. Instead of ensuring the MSP, the Modi government is eager towards freedom for agri-business to purchase and corporatise peasant agriculture. These three ordinances will deregulate trade on farmers produces. It will destroy the food security and erode existing legal safeguards that prevent direct invasion of rural agricultural market by the monopoly corporate forces.
‘ONE NATION ONE MARKET’:
THE END OF FOOD SECURITY
The prime minister has presented the slogan of ‘One Nation, One Market’ and barrier-free interstate e-trade on agriculture produces. The amendment to the Essential Commodities Act (ECA) will remove all regulation or controls on private players and agribusinesses. More than farmers, ECA is aimed to protect the interests of the common people at large. Removing commodities like cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes from the list of essential commodities in the ECA will emerge as a threat to food security. The ECA was the single most important act to prevent hoarding of these essential commodities and its futures trade. Now, the processors, aggregators and big traders can procure any quantity of crops, stockpile and sell at the rates as dictated by the neo-liberal market. This is nothing else than open up agriculture for hoarding, black marketing and endless private profiteering. Hence the freedom is for the big traders not for the farmers as propagated by the PM and his cronies.
ATTACK ON FEDERALISM
The ordinance has provision that the price decided by the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) Act which comes under the jurisdiction of the state governments is not applicable to the agro business. They can procure directly from the farmer from anywhere across the country at the price as dictated by them. By deregulating the food stuff and under the coverage of Modal Contract Farming Act they can drive the farmers to produce as per the need and requirements of agri-business companies and directly press-stud the farmers in order to procure any quantity of crops. This is going to dilute the land use as well. Though agriculture is a state subject, Modi government is taking unilateral decisions violating the federal principles and making state governments mere adjunct of the union government without any voice and control over their agro produces and resources. AIKS has condemned this move and calls upon state governments also to take a position against it.
The FPTC(P&F) ordinance in its chapter 5 section 15 states that “no civil court shall have jurisdiction to entertain any suit or proceedings in respect of any matter” in this regard. Thus, if any dispute arises between the farmer and the big trader then the farmer cannot approach any court of law. A law under the Constitution of India may regulate but cannot negate the Judiciary hence the ordinance is illegal. The anti-farmer nature of these measures brought hastily without any consultation with farmers’ organizations, parliament or State governments through the Ordinance route needs to be thoroughly exposed among the public and be questioned in the court of law.
These ordinances claim to empower farmers to engage with processors, aggregators, wholesalers, large retailers and exporters on a level playing field without any fear of exploitation. Rather, it will eliminate farmers and aid the big landlords and agribusinesses to profit at their expense. The purpose behind is land consolidation and promotion of contract farming as well as in-practice lease of farm land by corporate companies. The claim that the risk of market instability will be transferred from the farmer to ‘the sponsor’ clearly points out that predatory agri-businesses and corporate forces will take over agriculture dispossessing the peasantry and firmly ensure corporatisation of peasant agriculture. The package of Rs.1 lakh crore ‘agriculture infrastructure fund’ to develop procurement, cold chain enabled warehousing, storage and transportation infrastructure connecting the farm gate and aggregation points to the agri-business will be overwhelmingly at the disposal to augment the agri-business corporate forces.
This situation also provides a never before opportunity to expose the ruling classes. The RSS has surrendered in front of US imperialism is crystal clear. RSS which used to advocate in the past for ‘Swadeshi’ development model is silent since the Modi government acquired power. This abject surrender of RSS-BJP led Modi government to neoliberalism at a time when even the developed capitalist countries go for nationalisation of sectors like health and transport is suicidal. The ruling classes today have lost their credibility in the eyes of the working class, the peasantry and the entire toiling people. This is the time to explain to the people the inherent barbarity of the capitalist system and the need of alternative.
SIGNIFICANCE OF LDF GOVT
The LDF government in Kerala has done most commendable work in developing a comprehensive policy network to handle the Corona-19 pandemic and effectively minimizing its impact upon the people of the state. The CPI(M) led LDF government was the first to announce a comprehensive relief package of Rs 20000 crore and also announced ‘SUBHIKSHA KERALAM’ project in order to ensure self-reliance of Kerala in food stuff production – where 82 per cent of the agro produces are cash crops- with the help of the resourceful co-operative sector in the state. In this context, enacting a Co-operative Farming (Production, industrial Processing, and Marketing) Act by the LDF government to ensure value addition in all crops and sharing of surplus as additional price and additional wage to the primary producers will be a timely initiative and will attract the peasantry across the country towards an alternative.
The AIKS has decided to resist these ordinances at any cost to prevent the corporatisation of peasant agriculture. Widest possible movement of the peasantry is the need of the hour. At the same time, in the context of the overall attack by the Modi government on the working people – total privatisation of PSEs and natural resources, doing away with labour rights etc- taking advantage of the lockdown and restriction of movement of the people, it is all the more necessary to develop a joint movement of the people. The joint struggles of the peasant organsiations and the trade unions forging a strong worker- peasant alliance will be the base of it. CITU, AIKS and AIAWU together will be taking up joint struggles in this direction.