New Delhi: The urgent anger among farmers protesting against three agriculture-related ordinances that the Narendra Modi government introduced this year in June is growing, as can be seen by the large number of farmers out on the roads in various states despite the COVID-19 pandemic still raging.
Farmers across India are accusing the Centre of gradually doing away with the protection of Minimum Support Price (MSP) and of leaving farmers at the mercy of big traders who are moving towards agriculture in a big way.
‘Centre wants to make industrial workers out of farm labour’
Talking to The Wire, Rakesh Tikait, the leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, said, “Gradually, every effort is being made to push big business towards the agricultural sectors so that the agricultural labour becomes available for industrial work.”
He said the farmers are seeking a roll back of 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 for a variety of reasons.
“The foremost is that now the protection of MSP is being taken away. We have repeatedly urged the Centre to ensure that as inter-state borders are opened to allow for sale of agricultural produce in any part of the country and that the farmer is given the guarantee that the produce will not sell for less than MSP anywhere,” he said.
‘No assurance from Centre on retaining MSP’
But, he said, let alone give an assurance, the Centre has not even been forthcoming about discussing the issues at hand. “We have tried several times to hold discussions. But as with the farmers insurance scheme – in which they did not discuss anything till after two years of passage of the scheme – this time too no one is coming forward to discuss the concerns being raised.”
Tikait said farmers, apart from holding protests in places like Chandigarh and Muzaffarnagar, have also been protesting in Delhi – on September 14 and thereafter – but there has been no response from the government.
Referring to how a businessman who used to provide audio systems for BJP’s rallies in Muzaffarnagar has now set up a sugarcane crusher to benefit from the changed norms, Tikait said this is only a prelude of what lies ahead. “We will soon have all kinds of big business coming in to set up farm related projects. This would also result in hoarding of produce in large quantities and their sale when the prices are high. As such, while the businesses will gain from the margins, the farmers will lose out on the benefits of high price of produce,” he said.
‘Changes will promote contract farming’
Contract farming is about to make its presence felt in a big way, he said. “Already, the farmer is burdened by the high cost of seeds, power, fertilisers and transport. They will soon start giving out their land on contract to big players and the excess agriculture labour would in this way get released for working in industries at low wages.”
Thousands of farmers in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and several other states are on the roads to protest against three farm ordinances which were presented in the Lok Sabha on Monday. They have been pointing out that the new laws are anti-farmer and would destroy agriculture and even compel many distressed farmers to die by suicide.
‘Will end existing grain market system’
Another BKU leader Sahab Singh has been quoted as saying that the changes are aimed at ending the existing traditional grain market system. This is also a reason why many commission agents have also been opposing the move as they fear it would take their business away. At the moment, these agents often make advance payments to the small farmers before the cropping starts and the amounts, which act as short term loans, get adjusted at the time of sale of the produce.
On the other hand, the Centre has stated that the ordinances will provide barrier-free trade to farmers and enable them enter into farming agreements with private players prior to production.
The farmers are evaluating the impact of the changes to see if the new provisions hold promise or will simply push them into greater hardship and penury.
Political parties unite to oppose move
The issue has also acquired political overtones with Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh openly opposing the move and saying that “these ordinances will cause irreparable damage to farming in the state”. He spoke of how the Punjab Assembly had, on August 28, passed a resolution urging the Centre to withdraw these ordinances.
Sensing the resentment towards the ordinances among farmers, Lok Sabha MP and Shiromani Akali Dal leader Sukhbir Badal also said yesterday that the Centre did not consult his party, despite it being an NDA-ally, before introducing these ordinances.
“In June, the Central government brought three ordinances related to farmers. Before bringing these ordinances, there should have been discussions with farmers and political parties. The majority of our workers are from farmer families,” he said, adding that “when the ordinance was brought in cabinet, our representative in the cabinet raised queries. These ordinances are affecting Punjab the most. The farmers of Punjab did not get their answers.”