The Lok Sabha on Thursday passed the three agriculture sector bills in the ongoing monsoon session- (i) The Farmers’ Produce and Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 (ii) The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement with Price Assurance Farm Service Bill, 2020 (iii) The Essential Commodities (Amend) Bill, 2020.
The Minister of Agriculture and Family Welfare, Narendar Singh Tomar said the three bills aimed to transform the agriculture sector and to enhance the spirit of “Atma-Nirbhar Bharat” by creating opportunities for small and marginal farmers in the country.
The notable provisions of the bills are to assist 86% of total small and marginal farmers who don’t have the right to bargain or negotiate the price of their produce. Thus, getting low profit from sales and with no capital to invest in technology to improve farming.
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Bill, 2020 essentially provides a system for farmers to sell their products aside from the designated mandis with no threat to the existing structure. Anyone can buy their produce right from farmer’s land.
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance Farm Service Bill, 2020 allows farmers to sign up contracts with Agri-based companies, wholesalers, exporters or large retailers on pre-agreed prices of their produce.
While the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 seeks to remove commodities like cereal, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes from the list of essential commodities and attract foreign direct investments as it removes stock-holding limits except under extraordinary circumstances like war and natural calamities.
While the nation was celebrating this bill on PM Narendra Modi’s birthday, opposition parties led massive protests in states like Punjab and Haryana. Following the announcement, Union Cabinet Minister, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the sole representative of BJP’s oldest ally Shiromani Akali Dal resigned from Modi cabinet.
But, are these protests the voice of poor farmers or crocodile tears of the agents or the middle man?
Political parties, Farmers Unions such as the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) and the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordinating Committee, an umbrella body of other union bodies have coined this as an “anti-farmers bill”, but must not forget the existing system favors medium-large farmers and commission agents of Mondays only.
The states like Punjab and Haryana get the highest revenues from the “Mandi Tax”, under the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) system which takes hard earned money from poor farmers who are forced to pay these taxes and benefiting the middleman and large players.
The issues raised by the protesters include the end of ‘minimum support price’ (MSP) and exploitation of farmers at the mercy of big corporations. Monopoly over stocks can give Agri-giants the power to dictate terms to farmers, which may lead to less revenue for the cultivators.
In every aspect the middlemen are the one who gets the real profit, and the fact that the State, middlemen and the unions are the one who’s impacted from these bills because they don’t want to lose the grip over the poor farmers. Hence resulting protest over the bills.
The bills have their own pros and cons, however the current system of APMC and agents has left farmers in a desperate state. Only time will tell if the pros weigh more than the cons or if it’s the other way around.