New Delhi: Hundreds of farmers and arhtiyas (middlemen) associations protested against three agriculture ordinances of the Central government at Pipli near Haryana’s Kurukshetra. As they marched towards the grain market, police lathicharged them for defying the administration’s warnings during a raging coronavirus pandemic, news reports said.
The demonstration was held by Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) who blocked the national highway-44 to protest against the central ordinances for the agriculture sector, the reports added.
The Union Cabinet had passed three agriculture ordinances in June: the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, and an amendment in the Essential Commodities Act, 1955.
The government says that the three ordinances will create a farmer- and trader-friendly environment where they will be able to sell and purchase agricultural produce. However, farmers allege that in the name of reforms, the government is planning to discontinue the MSP regime.
As per an Indian Express report, former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda expressed outrage over the police lathicharging protesters and said, “By bringing three anti-farmer ordinances during the coronavirus pandemic, the government has forced the farmer to come out on the streets and protest. No ordinance can be in the interest of the farmers unless it guarantees minimum support price of crops and there is a discussion in Parliament. If the government wants to make any changes in the system, it will have to guarantee the protection of the mandi and the MSP system.”
A Hindustan Times report quoted Haryana agriculture minister J.P. Dalal as saying that the state government is committed to provide minimum support price (MSP) for all the crops of the farmers in the state.
BKU state unit chief Gurnam Singh said, “The voice of farmers has to be raised, we want withdrawal of these anti-farmer ordinances, which will destroy the peasants and leave them at the mercy of market forces.”
Similar protests were held in Haryana and Punjab earlier.
What are the three Ordinances?
Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman in May introduced an amendment to the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 as part of a COVID-19 relief measure. The Union Cabinet passed it in June and is now an ordinance. However, the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 will lapse if it doesn’t get cleared by the parliament in the upcoming session.
Under the amended Act, essential food commodities such as cereals, pulses, edible oil and sugar will be deregulated. Simply put, there will be no storage limit or movement restriction for the aforementioned commodities. Only under emergency situations, such as a natural calamity when production collapses, would limits on stocks be imposed.
Under the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, traders have to mandatorily pay farmers on the same day or within maximum three working days. It allows inter-state and intra-state trade of farmers’ produce outside mandis. The Ordinance also allows electronic trading of “scheduled farmers’ produce” in a “trade area”.
“Trade area” is defined under Section 2(m), as “any area or location, place of production, collection and aggregation including — farm gate; factory premises; warehouses; silos; cold storages; or any other structure or place, from where trade of farmers’ produce may be undertaken…” APMC mandis and private market yards have been excluded from the definition of trade area.
Basically, it aims to end the monopoly of the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) and allow anyone to buy and sell agricultural produce. A person will be penalised up to Rs 10 lakh for non-compliance of provisions under the Ordinance.
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance allows farmers to sell their agricultural produce to private players. This Ordinance also attracts a penalty if a business fails to pay farmers on time.
Last month, N. Sai Balaji, research scholar at the CIPOD, wrote in The Wire about the three agricultural reforms and said that India needs a state-supported scheme that ensures income for damaged crops during a drought, flood or a cyclone. The analytical piece also pointed to the advantages private players will get through changes in the Essential Commodities Act. The changes, if passed by parliament, will neither benefit the consumer nor the producer, and will give corporates the legal right to hoard and take advantage of high prices.
Experts have said that the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance has been touted as a reform that will give farmers freedom to sell their produce anywhere in the country. However, currently farmers are already free to sell anywhere. Experts have maintained that farmers’ freedom to sell was never in question and calling the reform historic obscures real intervention.