Whew! Finally, the media seems to have moved past Sushant Singh. And yesterday, we were looking at belligerent MPs, breaking call codes of decency and decorum in the Rajya Sabha. Yes, some issues, especially when it comes to farmers, always runs high on passion and drama. The three Farm Bills are at the center of this storm and we living in the cities, try to understand what this brouhaha is all about.
To simplify it – there are three Bills for farmers. On the face of it, they are absolutely ideal and exactly what the farmers need for long term reform. The premise of all the three bills is to put more money in the hands of the farmer, remove them from the shackles of the APMC and middlemen or arhatiyas. Sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?
The first one - The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020 or the APMC Bypass Ordinance is about giving farmers the freedom to sell their produce wherever they want, wherever they get a better price. The need to compulsorily sell them at APMC mandis is done away with. This is not about shutting down the APMCs but leaving the option in the hands of the farmers to sell at the best price.
The second one – Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 or Freedom of Food Stocking by Agribusinesses Ordinance. Under this, a stockist can buy and stock farm produce and need no longer fear about being held for hoarding.
The third one - The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020 or simply put, Contract Farming Ordinance. As the name suggests, this is about a ‘contract’ between the company and the farmer wherein, the company can dictate the farmer to produce the product that it wants rather than buying what the farmer produces. This is akin to farmers harvesting acres and acres of land, cultivating only potatoes purely for McDonalds and they get a remuneration for the same, which is also fixed at the time of signing the contract.
See? They are perfect plans to make the farmers rich. So, what is the protest really about? The biggest worry, which the opposition MPs say is that APMCs will cease to exist and this is a ploy to do away with the Minimum Selling Price (MSP). Well, if they had read the Bill thoroughly, they would have seen that the Bill categorically says that APMCs will continue to function as before and MSPs will remain as before – nothing changes there except the farmers now gets the freedom. The farmer is truly liberated to sell instead of being exploited by the middlemen.
The MPs say that this ‘freedom” will actually make them slaves to the corporates where they will be forced to sell at rates that they dictate. But then, if not entered into a contract farming, the farmer retains the freedom to sell wherever he gets a better price. Why will he sell at a lower rate to a company when the APMC’s MSP is higher? So, what exactly are the farmers in Punjab and Haryana and some in MP and Chhattisgarh protesting? Is it that the vested interest there fear they will lose their fiefdom and earnings when farmer is liberated from the APMC and middlemen? These middlemen are politically connected and most of the times are the financiers for farmers thus keeping them trapped.
The protesting MPs say that even if the APMCs are not shut down, they will be forced to shut down when farmers go to private parties more and lesser and lesser to APMCs. But then, if that happens, isn’t there a lesson there for the AMPCs – they need to buckles up as their monopoly is under threat?
Having said all this, what is deplorable though is this high-handed attitude of the Govt. We live in a democracy and not an authoritarian Govt – it needs to stop acting like one. In a democracy, the Govt needs to look at all opinions, give credence to worries of the Opposition and take steps to soothe these ruffled feathers through discussions or maybe take a vote or refer the contentions to an unbiased committee. The Govt has to learn to work together, understand and reduce differences and arrive at a common ground; instead it road-rolls through everything, paying little heed to other voices. Has the Parliament become a mere clearing house now?
The Farm Bills are excellent and much needed for the reform in agriculture but it’s the attitude of the Govt – my way or the highway, which has caused this damage. If the Govt had shown empathy and communicated the Bill correctly, clearly spelling it out that APMCs and MSPs will stay, this confusion would have never happened. But then, this Govt does not have the habit of listening at all; it only dictates.