The Cheat Sheet

Why farmers are pitched outside Delhi

TV Jayan | Updated on December 03, 2020 Published on December 02, 2020

Since November 26, farmers from Punjab and Haryana and other northern States have been camping outside Delhi in an effort to force the Centre’s hand to annul the three farm laws — including one that facilitates trade in agricultural produce outside designated mandis — which they think will hurt their interests and favour big corporations. There are reports of around three lakh farmers already on ground and more coming. The government, on the other hand, has been arguing that these reforms are essential for improving the lives of small and marginal farmers, who constitute 87 per cent of India’s 14-crore farming community. Though the government and the farmers have had three rounds of talks, a reconciliation is still far away with both side refusing to budge.

What is the genesis of the problem?

In June, the government promulgated three ordinances relating to deregulating agricultural markets. Broadly, these ordinances allow farmers to sell their produce outside APMC mandis, make contract farming easier, and remove stock limits on many food articles stored by traders and agribusinesses. Subsequently, these ordinances were passed during the monsoon session of Parliament despite a strong protests from Opposition parties.

On the face of it, these new laws appear good for the farmers. Why are they protesting, then?

Because there is fear and mistrust among farmers. The farmers, particularly those in Punjab and Haryana, who have benefited immensely from the price guarantee system and assured procurement, fear that the reforms will eventually lead to the dismantling of the minimum support price and public procurement regimes, even though the government has clearly said it has no such intentions. The farmers, however, do not trust the government. A senior farmer leader from Punjab, who is camping at Singhu border, said even the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, which recommends minimum support prices for a number of crops, in a couple of recent reports talked about the MSP’s unviability. At least a section of farmers is demanding that the MSP should be made mandatory for any trade, which the government has not heeded to so far.

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What are the farmers’ demands?

Farmer unions want the government to withdraw the laws and also stop going ahead with the Electricity Amendment Bill, 2020, which would end some of the freebies enjoyed by them.

They say that the reforms brought in by the government were not what they had demanded. Moreover, they say, the government did not consult them when these sweeping changes were introduced. They argue that over a period of time, as trade outside mandis takes off, there is a strong possibility that the mandis would slowly lose their relevance and the system of floor pricing would collapse. They cite the example of Bihar, where the scrapping of APMCs did not bring in significant private investments.

They also have a grouse with the dispute settlement mechanism proposed in these Acts, which they fear will leave them at the mercy of bureaucrats with the district collector being the highest appellate authority for settling disputes, and no recourse to judicial solution.

Will there be a solution to the impasse any time soon?

The government has had three rounds of talks with the farmers — the two rounds with Punjab farmer groups who had been blocking roads and rail in their State for nearly two months and the third, on December 1 along with national leaders of farmer organisations. A solution is still not in sight, but fortunately both the parties have agreed to take the discussions forward.

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Published on December 02, 2020
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