Explained – Farm Bills And Farmers Protests

Farmers across the country are protesting against the newly enacted Agriculture Bills. The Centre calls these laws key to reforms in the agriculture sector to benefit farmers, the protests continue to spread. There is fear among farmers that these laws will make them dependent on corporate houses mercy.

To understand the contentious provisions under the new law and the previous farm produce procurement system, LokMarg speaks to Dr Darshanpal Singh, a noted agriculturist and farmer leader from Punjab.

Dr Singh explains how farmers will be affected by the new laws and their grievances, as well the measures needed to support the farmer. Watch this interview here:

‘New Agri Laws Will Turn Farmers Into Beggars’

Angrez Singh, 56, a farmer and social activist from Patiala, Punjab, explains why he is protesting against the recently-passed Agricultural Bills

Ye Sarkar anndata ko bhikhari bana degi (This (Narendra Modi) government is bent on turning the farmer into a beggar). We can see it coming. First, this government made changes in the labour laws to suit large industrial houses; next it began to bypass environmental concerns for the benefits of mining magnates; and now come the Agriculture Bills. Can’t you see who the real beneficiaries are going to be?

Large corporate players coming in to invest in farming sector means only big farmers with resources and capacity to bargain with these business houses will benefit. Surely, albeit slowly, this will lead to one company having monopoly in due course of time. The same way as it happened in the telecom sector. And it will only be a matter of time when small farmers will be transported to the days of bandhua majdoori (bonded labour).

I feel the mandis were doing good work and acted as a safety net for small farmers across the country. There was a guarantee of minimum support price (MSP) as well as grievance redressal system in place. If all this goes, the farmers will completely be at the mercy of corporates. I am not saying the systems by the previous governments were perfect, but this change in the name of reforms is sure not going to work. You can’t put a whole system down right to the expectation of goodwill and fair play on part of corporates. We need to have checks and balances in place to safeguard the interest of small farmers.

WATCH: ‘Guarantee That No Farm Produce Will Sell Below MSP’

The new provisions were put in place as abruptly as the demonetisation decision was imposed on innocent people. There was no debate, no effort to build consensus and no pilot projects to see whether a plan, law, reform is actually efficient or not. I wonder if we are regressing to pre-Independence times of bulldozer laws because Agriculture Bills seem like a step in that direction.

I am happy that farmers’ groups and organisations across the country are united on the issue. Many a migrant labourers used to work in the farms of Punjab and because of the pandemic most of them had returned to their homes in other states. Today, we are short of farm hands. Producing food is no child’s play; it takes a lot of blood and sweat. While the farming sector can sure do with being better organized, I don’t think turning agriculture into business is a good idea. Ultimately it is the poorest of the poor who will suffer while the rich will get richer.

Agrez Singh with a family member at his native farm in Patiala, Punjab

Akali Dal leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal’s resignation from the Union Cabinet and the party’s withdrawal of support from the NDA are too little, too late. Akali leaders should have taken strict measures in June when these bills had been brought in as ordinances. This is only a last-minute effort to save face.

India used to face foodgrain crisis for many years after Independence, until the Green Revolution happened. Haryana and Punjab literally proved themselves as the food bowl of the country; other parts of the country picked up afterwards. Many farmers in Punjab and Haryana had come after Partition and had built their lives from scratch.

India is primarily an agricultural country and we consider the earth as our mother. People are emotionally attached to the land and its produce. We believe in sharing food and are efforts are not solely focussed on profits. The government should consider the emotional cost of these Farm Bills as well.

In the short run, only the farmer community might suffer, but slowly the stress will spread to larger sections of society as prices of foodgrains, vegetables and other farm produce shoot up. We hope social media as well as mainstream media understands the importance of these issues and encourages people to think deeply and convey their concerns to the government and I hope the government listens.

Upsurge 2.0: Farmers Take To The Streets

On Friday, as the sun set in large parts of India, the day-long farmers’ protests and Bharat Bandh passed off peacefully with no police violence, lathi-charge or teargas reported, no mass arrests or detentions, and no forcible eviction of farmers, many of whom had blocked highways and roads, and railway tracks and trains, albeit peacefully, and in a collective, resolute show of non-violence. Even while the so-called Godi media chose to ignore it, social media was replete with images and commentaries of the mass protests all over the country; significantly in the South, in cities like Hyderabad and Bangalore, where thousands thronged the streets in militant non-violent protests against three agriculture-related bills.

The Centre in the recently-concluded Monsoon Session of Parliament passed three bills rather arbitrarily: the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020; the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 and; he Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020.

Farmers believe these bills will have long-lasting and negative effects on farming as they will give a free run to big industrialists, global sharks, cartels and multinationals. Powerful hoarders will have a field day, the minimum support price of farm produce will be manipulated pushing the farmers to abject starvation, debt and total dependence, and all kinds of dubious and sleazy market forces will be allowed to capture Indian agriculture.

The belligerent BJP-led central government, who chose to care little for dialogue or consensus in pushing the three bills, and which was so sure of its absolute and one-dimensional power, now not only finds itself on a sticky wicket – it is clearly on the back foot.

WATCH: ‘Farmers Will Become Bonded Labours Of The Rich’

Indeed, the street has once again become a metaphor for non-violent protests, for the first time since the lockdown, which was preceded by massive peaceful protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and Citizen Registry (NRC) that rocked the nation with demonstrations and prolonged sit-ins across small towns and big cities for more than three months during winter last year and thereafter. Surely, after the massive Shaheen Bagh protests, which were replicated across the nation, and with the farmers coming on the streets physically, breaking all forms of collective phobia or the fear of a Police State, the use of the pandemic to crush democratic dissent can no more be used. The tide is rising again, this time with farmers in the lead.

On the first day of protests, the farmers’ life began earlier than most people in India, much before sunrise. There was fear that there could be a crackdown, especially in the states ruled by the BJP. Even now, there have been apprehensions that the central government, which has been rather uncompromising, might actually choose to crack down using the pandemic as an excuse, as it has done with peaceful dissenters against the CAA, which the protesters have condemned as discriminatory, communal and against the basic tenets of the secular Indian Constitution.

By morning most of Punjab was up in arms. Indeed, what found sharp resonance in Parliament earlier, especially in the Rajya Sabha, where the three bills were pushed by a voice vote in the din (with Rajya Sabha TV volume muted) and a division of vote was not allowed, and which the Opposition called as the murder of democracy, became resonant yet again on the streets all over India. Trains and highways were blocked but without any untoward incident.

At the Haryana-Punjab border, tractors blocked the roads even as ambulances and locals were allowed to move, and youngsters in thousands assembled in solidarity with the farmers. Punjab being the epicenter, the strong protests were spread across the state, with the farmers refusing to budge till the three bills are taken back, lock, stock and barrel, and the minimum support prices for farm produce legalized.

At the massive Nabha protests, again on railway tracks, men and women marched from long distances, to join in solidarity. A woman told BBC News (Hindi), “Narendra Modi tells his Mann ki Baat. So what about our Mann ki Baat? Another woman said, “The movement will be sharpened if the bills are not withdrawn. They are liars.”

The upsurge spread across the country, with thousands of rallies and dharnas. Farmers, workers, locals, trade unions, civil society organisations and students came out in hundreds of rallies in small towns and cities, in every state, holding red, green and other flags, marching in a disciplined and peaceful manner. ‘Standwithfarmers’ kept trending on social media. In Kolkata, the students of Jadavpur University marched through the streets singing songs in support of the farmers. There was overwhelming support for the agitation all over Bengal with the Left, the Congress and the ruling Trinamool Congress coming out in support.

The CPI-ML (Liberation), which is strong among the poor peasantry in Bihar, led protests across the state, led by its general secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya. The CPI (M) organized rallies in several parts of the country even as its national protests have been continuing since the last few weeks demanding the scrapping of the bills, Rs 7,500 in every bank account of jobless workers, food for the poor from the public distribution system, an end to the selling of public sector assets like the railways and airports, and the release of students, intellectuals, activists and peaceful protestors from prisons.

Surprisingly, the CPI (M) organized massive and militant protests in Tripura, especially in Agartala, whereby thousands of people came out and broke the physical barricades enacted by the police at several points. People trickled in streams across locations, very angry and vociferous, though the clashes with the cops were never violent with the police giving way to the surging crowds.

ALSO READ: Can BJP Take On Punjab Farmers?

Several highways were blocked, including the important Bombay-Ahmedabad highway, where hundreds of women of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), blocked traffic. Ashok Dhawale, president of the CPI(M)-led All India Kisan Sabha, came to the site to give a solidarity speech. Dhawale, indeed, was the leader of the massive march of lakhs of farmers to Mumbai earlier from the remotest interiors of Maharashtra, including Adivasi areas, when the BJP government was ruling in Mumbai.

That long march of kisans with a sea of red banners struck a chord across the nation with round-the-clock coverage, including on social and international media, with the people of Mumbai coming out in total support. Indeed, the farmers deliberately chose the route and timing in such a manner so as to not to disturb the school students in their exams, or the locals in their daily affairs. Doctors, students, housewives had rushed in then with food, medicine and even chappals. Mumbaikars showered flowers on the annadaatas from their balconies and doors when they marched through the lanes. AIKS said 50,000 farmers protested across Maharashtra on Friday.

Over two dozen farmers’ organizations backed by scores of political parties have joined the protests. The Bharat Bandh was coordinated by the All India Farmers Union (AIFU), Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), All India Kisan Mahasangh (AIKM), among others, with the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) leading the protests. Ten central trade unions, all Left students’ organizations, joined the strike. Farmers’ bodies from Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra called for a shutdown. The RSS-affiliated organizations like the Bhartiya Kisan Sangh and Swadeshi Jagran Manch did not take part.

Clearly, these mass protests are now likely to resurrect a new wave of peaceful resistance in civil society and by the Opposition parties, especially against the daily hounding and arrests of students, professors, intellectuals, journalists and dissenters, particularly from the Muslim community, on fabricated and flimsy charges.

Watch – ‘Farmers Will Become Bonded Labour Of Rich’

There is widespread anguish among the country’s farmers with regards to the new Agriculture Bills passed by Parliament in the recently concluded Monsoon Session. Various political and apolitical farmer organisations have come out on streets in opposition to the proposed laws that seek to bring in private buyers for farm produce.

As there were few debates in Parliament on the issue, the jury is still out whether these reforms will help increase farmers’ incomes or add to their misery. LokMarg meets the protesting farmers in Uttar Pradesh to know their view and found their demands:

1) The Centre must ensure that minimum support price bar is maintained for the buyers while purchasing farm produce, be it in mandis or to a corporate house.

2) Allay farmers’ apprehensions that their land will not be grabbed in the name of contract farming.

3) The support price must be revised frequently in accordance with the rise in inflation rate.

Watch the video: