After the Lok Sabha approved the three new farm bills, the Rajya Sabha gave them clearance too on 20 September. The three bills – The Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, The Essential Commodities Act (Amendment) Bill and Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill are all set to be laws when President Ram Nath Kovind gives them a nod. Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the passing of these bills a ‘watershed’ moment for the country. However, on Friday, farmers across India took it to the streets to protest against the new legislation.
Understanding the bills
To understand if the outreach in the country is justified, let us glance through the major points of these bills-
- The Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill – this bill makes it non-mandatory for companies to make a written contract with the farmer. This way, if the companies violate the contract, there will be no way of proving it. There is no penalty for the companies who did not register their contracts. Also, there are no prices specified in the bill, which means that the company can pay whatever amount it wants (mostly very low) to the farmer.
- The Essential Commodities Act (Amendment) Bill – this bill is not giving any new rights to the farmers. Rather it is removing the maximum cap on the hoarding of crops by companies and traders. This way, they can even cause market scarcity and increase the price. The government can only intervene if there is a 50% price rise over the previous year’s cost in case of non-perishable goods and a 100% rise in perishable goods.
- Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill – this bill says that the farmers will now have the freedom to sell to anyone across the country. Simultaneously, agri-business companies, corporate and traders outside the Agricultural Produce and Livestock Market Committee (APMC) can also purchase from the farmers. Currently, if the traders and companies do anything unfair, the farmers can complain to the APMC officers, but after this bill is passed, they will have to go to the divisional magistrate which is beyond the capacity of a local farmer.
The main opposition Congress party is publicly criticizing the bill, calling it “black law” and “pro-corporate.” One of its top leaders, Rahul Gandhi, has accused Modi of “making farmers ‘slaves’ of the capitalists.” Modi has come forward on Twitter to support these bills, saying, “For decades, the Indian farmer was bound by various constraints and bullied by middlemen. The bills passed by Parliament liberate the farmers from such adversities.”
Protests by the farmers
The protests have been intense in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana which are also known as the grain bowl of India and agriculture is their main occupation. The agriculture sector contributes nearly 15% to India’s $2.9 trillion economy but employs about 50% of the country’s 1.3 billion people.
The protesting farmers say that the government is trying to leave them at the mercy of big corporations. They also fear that they will be paid less and inconsistently for the production, but the companies will store the grains and sell them at a much higher price in the market. Talking to Al Jazeera, a farmer says, “Such deals are financially attractive, but because there are so many terms and conditions attached, it is difficult for a farmer to cope with them. You become the slave of the company. This fight is not just about economics, but also our right to grow what we want and our self-respect.”
What does The Policy Times think?
- With no opposition present in the house at the time of passing these bills, the central government reflects another example of its autocratic motions.
- The farmers are being exploited by presenting lucrative prospects in front of them that are more harmful than the existing system, from their core principles.
- Cheating the farmer and decreasing their income will be rampant once these bills become laws.