September 27, 2020

Farmers will Resist anti-Farmer Laws

Vijoo Krishnan

MASSIVE resistance has been built up by the peasantry against the three anti-farmer ordinances/bills. The intense struggles across the country and especially in Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh also created enough pressure to force a union minister, Harsimrat Kaur Badal to resign from the union cabinet in protest against anti-farmer ordinances and legislation. If the legislations are “pro-farmer” as Modi claims, why are farmers coming out in united protests against these measures? We need to look at each one of them and understand their implications to find an answer to this question.

The 'Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020' and ‘The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020’ and ‘The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 is a direct attack against federal principles and infringes on the rights of the state governments. Agriculture is a state subject or forms part of the State List of the Indian Constitution. The BJP government at the centre is actually seeking to override the states, centralise all powers in its hands to remove all regulations and allow a free hand for corporate companies. This legislation will put farmers at the mercy of agribusinesses, large retailers and exporters. All regulation or controls on private players and agribusinesses will be removed. Although agriculture is a state subject as also trade and commerce within a state is its prerogative, state governments will have no control over these operations in future. The limited protection provided to farmers will be removed and an unequal playing field with agribusinesses or big traders dictating the terms will become the order of the day. The changes brought will effectively disempower farmers and usher in ‘company raj’ in agriculture.

The BJP government claims that 'Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020' will promote barrier-free inter-state and intra-state trade and commerce, including e-commerce or outside the physical premises of markets notified under state agricultural produce marketing legislations. It is being claimed that for the first time the farmers have got the freedom to sell their produce wherever they want. This is far from reality. The truth is that all through the years a majority of marketable surplus in the hands of the farmers has been sold outside the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) market yards. For 31 crops sold between July 2012 and June 2013, local private traders were the biggest buyers in the case of 29 crops. Market yards or mandis, not all of which were under APMCs were the biggest buyers in just two crops arhar in Kharif season and gram in the rabi season. The share of farmers selling their crops in APMC yards does not exceed 25 per cent for any crop, except soyabean; Kerala for instance, does not have APMC markets but the government intervenes in favour of farmers. Bihar did away with APMCs and that has led to farmers getting even lower prices. Clearly, the network of regulated markets alone cannot be handling the marketing of surplus agricultural produce across India.

When the three Ordinances/Bills are read together one can clearly understand how the World Trade Organisation diktats to cut subsidies, reduce public stockholding and such measures are being implemented. The Shanta Kumar Committee had articulated the same and recommended privatisation of procurement and storage operations as well as for a reduced role for the central government. The committee had recommended that the centre should make it clear to states that it would not accept grains under the central pool beyond the quantity needed by the state for its own PDS and OWS in case of any bonus being given by them on top of MSP. This is the direction in which the BJP government is moving. In a state like Kerala where the LDF government is procuring paddy at Rs 2,750 per quintal that is about Rs 900 per quintal more than the central MSP one can imagine what impact that will have on the farmers’ lives.

Amendments to the ECA removing commodities like cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes from the list of essential commodities will not only emerge as a threat to food security but in the context of the above legislation also, allow traders and agribusinesses to buy unlimited quantity directly from farmers and hoard even in times of emergencies. This was the single most important Act to prevent hoarding of these essential commodities particularly in times of crisis such as the present.

The claim that ECA is being amended for attracting investment for cold chain, storage, agricultural infrastructure and processing industries along with its push for 100 per cent FDI in these sectors clearly indicates that the purpose is to allow agri-businesses and corporate houses to take over agriculture. The BJP government using the Covid pandemic is going all out to woo private sector and FDI into agriculture by simultaneously withdrawing from its responsibility of building a network of scientific storage facilities easily accessible to farmers. The agricultural infrastructure fund of Rs 1 lakh crore announced will also be put at the disposal of corporate agribusinesses in the name of developing infrastructure for procurement, cold storages, transportation connecting farm-gate and accumulation points.

The hollowness of the claim of granting freedom to farmers to sell their produce wherever they want at a guaranteed price is exposed when we look at the ‘The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020’ so attractively packaged. Though the name mentions price assurance nowhere in the ordinance does it say prices given by a trader or agribusiness to the farmer cannot go below the MSP. Neither is there any mention of fixing the prices at 50 per cent above the comprehensive cost of production or C2+50 per cent as promised by Modi in 2014. In reality, the central government has deregulated the markets and withdrawn its commitment to price support and procurement by the two Bills we discussed earlier. It claims that it will empower farmers to engage with processors, aggregators, wholesalers, large retailers and exporters on a level playing field without any fear of exploitation. Can one imagine a level playing field between agribusinesses like Adani Wilmar, Pepsico, Walmart, Reliance Fresh, ITC etc., and a poor indebted farmer or tenant cultivator? They will only shed crocodile tears after finishing off the peasantry. The claim that the risk of market instability will be transferred from the farmer to the sponsor is baseless. Rather than empowering farmers it will eliminate them and aid the big landlords and agribusinesses to profit at their expense. The SDM will be given all powers of dispute settlement over-ruling the power of the courts. It will put the poor farmers having a dispute with big corporate companies at the mercy of the bureaucracy. Predatory agri-businesses and corporate forces will take over agriculture dispossessing the peasantry and firmly ensure corporatisation of agriculture. The thrust to contract farming will only enslave the farmers eternally to produce as per the demand and requirement of the agri-businesses. If the intention was genuinely for farmers’ empowerment, protection and price assurance why there is no concrete provision for price guarantee in the bills?

The entire peasantry and toiling masses have suffered huge losses of incomes due to the unplanned lockdown. Instead of providing relief to them with income support, loan waivers, providing foodgrains, generating employment and health facilities the BJP government is only showering unending benefits as well as concessions to the corporate companies. Rather than facilitating corporate loot and dependence on FDI, the government must ensure cooperative farming by promoting cooperatives of the peasantry and agriculture workers. What is required is remunerative MSP for all crops at C2+50 per cent with guaranteed procurement. employment at a minimum wage of Rs 600 per day to all agricultural workers, income support of at least Rs 7,500 per month to all non-tax paying poor, at least Rs 300 per day as unemployment wages under MGNREGA, an increase of PM-KISAN to Rs 18,000 per year and extending benefits to tenant farmers also and complete loan waiver for the landless, tenant, small and middle peasants. Food security and comprehensive social security must also be ensured.

The three ordinances and the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020 were burnt in protest in more than 3,000 centres across India within a week of its promulgation. United struggles by workers, peasants and agricultural workers have been going on and a plan was worked out for taking up elaborate struggles. On August 9, 2020, the anniversary of Quit India Movement and September 5, 2020 massive united struggles with over two million participating across the country in each of these actions have taken place. All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee with over 250 organisations in which AIKS is a major constituent, Central Trade Unions and the Bhumi Adhikar Andolan extended solidarity and have been at the forefront of these struggles. The AIKSCC has given a call for Pratirodh Diwas or Resistance Day on September 25th across India. Farmers in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh has decided to observe it in the form of a bandh and farmers across India will have massive protest actions. The working class and central trade unions have extended support. The member of Left Parties in the Parliament pushed for a statutory resolution against the three bills in Parliament and also protested. Even as real issues of farmers and toiling masses are lying unaddressed, the BJP is trying to divert attention from them. The protests are only going to intensify and these anti-farmer legislations will be resisted come what may.