Kavitha Kuruganti, a Bengaluru-based member of the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha, says repeal of farm laws is just the beginning; a lot more is needed to protect small farmers and Advasis
I handle the media relations and public statement of the Sanyukt Kisan Morcha and was actively involved in drafting the resolution adopted by Kisan Sansad held at Jantar Mantar in August this year.
We wanted something positive in terms of entitlement to farmers with regards to the crop prices. And our demand is in sync with the promises made by NDA government which had committed itself of doubling the farmers income during their tenure. It is unfortunate that even to this date they haven’t made any progress on this front.
While the government has rolled back the farm laws what farmers need beyond the repeal is guaranteed price for their produce. Towards this end, we asked for four things under the title Kisan Swaraj Neeti. These four steps are the essential elements of changing the paradigm in favour of the country’s farmers.
First is income security to be guaranteed to all framers. It’s not correct that we talk in bits and pieces in terms of insurance, better technology. At the end of the day, whatever the government does in the name of farmers or rural development and agricultural reforms, it has to manifest itself in terms of a dignified living income. The government has to make itself accountable to deliver the income and not schemes, as they do not add up to better income. If you make the overall goal of raising their income, all other things will be better aligned and there will be a self-correcting mechanism of them becoming falling in place.
The second is environmental sustainability in agriculture. There is no point in degrading our resources or overexploiting our resources. A short term prosperity, if at all there is any such thing, at the expense of those very resources which are required to sustain livelihood for the future is unacceptable. If our soil degrades, out water tables dry up, our diversity erodes, how can farming sustain in future? So making environmental sustainability a key focus and commitment in everything we do. Sarkar, Bazar and Samaj all three have equal responsibility towards this end.
The third is the control of resources must remain in the hands of farmers. You can’t take away their land, forest seeds and expect them to still survive in this enterprise. The government cannot lay claims to agricultural resource; that will be resource-grabbing.
The fourth and final one is to save diverse and nutritious food for all citizens. We want consumers to be connected to food, farming and farmers. The struggle for farmers cannot just be their struggle alone; it is the food system struggle and consumers have a large stake in it. This is how we in ASHA Kisan Swaraj articulate the Kisan Swaraj Neeti and while by doing so we visualize the invisible actors in farming like women farmers, tenant farmers, and Adivasi farmers. Without that social responsibility building, the structure will not sustain.
The long term collateral impact of the biggest sustained protest in contemporary history is yet too early to be assessed. Prime Minister Modi, whose public persona was crafted as a tough leader who never does a U-turn, has been forced to do just that by the relentless farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh. They had more to lose from these laws than Modi did with a U-turn. He has repealed the laws to every one’s relief, except the arm-chair warriors around him who wanted him to stand firm against his own citizens.
What was also remarkable was the unity of the farmers’ leadership. Sikh leadership rarely remains united beyond a few months. The Punjab-Haryana leadership in association with the inspiring and formidable Rakesh Tikait of UP also managed to de-communalise the struggle despite several attempts by the Government to make it appear a Sikh separatist campaign. Astute and intelligent leadership has emerged from this movement. The one to watch.
It will remain to be seen what happens next in the talks. Will the leadership remain focussed and united? Will it successfully continue to be a one purpose campaign, keeping away opportunist politicians eying the potential vote bank?
While the immediate win is obvious, it’s the collateral impact of the protest that could be even more powerful. Struggles in the Punjab have often shaped the course of events in South Asia, sometimes the world. The cracks in the Mughal Empire were first split open in Punjab in 1710. Within 20 years the Mughal Empire began to unravel. It was the fall of the Punjab in 1847 that led to consolidation and expansion of the British Empire. It was the five year sustained protest movement in Punjab in 1920s for regaining control of Gurdwaras that started the collapse of the British Empire. The British invited the Congress in 1932 to talk about possible transfer of power. Why Congress and Gandhi dillydallied for another 15 years has not been looked at by historians. Once India became free, the rest of the British Empire fell apart like dominoes.
It was the communal violence in Punjab in 1947 that continues to dominate geo political issues in South Asia. And it was the Punjab Sikh agitation against Indira Gandhi’s Emergency in 1975 that weakened her and the Congress. It started the rise of the alternatives. It was the Sikh uprising after 1984 invasion of Golden Temple that led to final disintegration of Congress, rise of BJP and Hindutva.
The Punjab rarely gains much politically from its struggles but creates waves that quantumly precipitate other upheavals in South Asia and the world.
What will this movement precipitate? It is possible that a coherent federal Indian movement might arise as a collateral from the weakening of BJP. It is possible that the ‘small farms’ issue could become internationalised and small farmers around the world might rise against the encroaching corporate agri business. It could be the beginning of dismantling of stranglehold that global corporate sector has on power. Struggles from Punjab influence events in many ways and the consequences of this struggle remain uncharted yet.
Equal winners in the struggle were the women of India. The women of Punjab, Haryana and UP have shown a strength, resilience and daring that is an inspiration to the world. They stood shoulder to shoulder with the men and many times endured far more. They refused to go back to the villages and instead brought their children and grandchildren with them. They dared the Government and refused to bow.
It is difficult yet to predict the personal and political impact on the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. People who have met him personally often say that he is a pleasant, charming and a warm person who empathises with the concerns of others. But the BJP electoral machine had built him as an Indian Thatcher, decisive and never taking a U-turn.
Nevertheless, it is not appropriate to say he lost. He bowed to democracy. He is a leader of a democracy. When he sensed that that the protestors were gaining increasing support from Indians from all corners of the country, he did the decent thing. He ignored his image makers and took a personal decision. He decided to repeal the laws. He may initially have stood his ground against the farmers, but ultimately he defied those who ‘made’ his public persona.
The greatest losers in this have been Canada and Australia and their big Agri businesses assisted by WTO rules set by western powers. It was Canada and latterly Australia that have relentlessly been gunning at the MSP (minimum support price) for farm produce in India. Australia brought a formal complaint against India in 2019 with Canada joining the ‘arbitration board’ to decide whether India has broken World Trade Organisation rules by given 150% MSP (or MPS in WTO language) for wheat and 185% for Sugar Cane.
The Indian Government was under immense pressure to scale down MSP to a mere 110% or bring in the private sector. Both Canada and Australia were drooling when farm laws were introduced and Modi stood firm. They are of the opinion that due to miniscule profit margin under WTO rules and free market, small farmers will stop growing wheat and other food grains thus pushing India to buy these products from Canada and Australia instead. They had the GDP obsessed IMF on board too. India is a huge potential market for the mega farms of both countries. It was no surprise that Sikh MPs in Canada maintained a studious silence on the Punjab Farm Laws.
If Modi decides to stand by Indian farmers and accepts their demand for MSP to be legislated at 150% or more, this will be a great blow for the 30-year campaign by Canada and recently by Australia to break into the Indian grain market.
With growing dissent within the WTO for its pro-western and pro-corporate orientation, this protest may spur India to lead the developing countries and force change in WTO.
Perhaps the greatest winner of the protest and the Modi U-turn is India’s otherwise dysfunctional democracy. Often appearing to be faltering and surviving in Intensive Care, India’s democracy has in fact shown itself to be adaptable and a great survivor. Despite many hiccups, election violence, wannabe dictators, it has shown its resilience time and time again. It broke Indira’s Emergency and it has forced BJP to repeal the laws.
Whatever happens next, whether the BJP starts to lose grip of near total power or federalism emerges as the way forward, democracy will survive in India for long time to come. It will make and break leaders. It is the wider collateral impact on the world that is to be watched from this protests.
When India became free in 1947, the country’s population was around 340 million. The bulk of the population was involved in agriculture. During the Moghul rule, the land was owned by the emperor and the Jagirdars and Zamindars appointed by the Moghul controlled vast tracts of land for the purpose of collecting the land revenue. The farmers were virtually landless. I have seen these poor exploited souls walk towards the sheds of these landlords like cattle after the day’s toil to sleep for the night and get some rice and daal for food.
During the freedom struggle, a promise had been made that the land will be given to the tiller. The aim was to get rid of feudalism and revive the country’s agricultural economy that had been ruined and could not produce enough food for the nation. Famines were common both during the Moghul and British eras. Nearly three million died during the Bengal famine of 1943
Independent India’s government took quick steps to abolish Zamindari and Jagirdari to distribute land to the landless farmers. Depending upon the availability of land in each area a limit was placed on the maximum that a tiller family could get. The poor farmers were still using ancient techniques in farming that did not bring a good result.
It has taken time to revive agriculture. To the credit of independent India that it fought a threatened famine in Bihar in 1966. I was all over Bihar then and can say with confidence that few millions would have died but for free India. Not a single person died of hunger-of course the food was imported in large quantities from the United States.
Then came the effort to educate the farmers of new practices, new seeds from India’s agricultural research institutes that the country’s first Prime Minister established. India achieved what is known as the green revolution. Today the country feeds a population of 1300 million and its granaries are overflowing with stocks. The country is an exporter of food grains.
However, over the years, with population explosion and subdivision of small holdings of the farmers in the villages upon the death of original landholder the holdings in most cases have become uneconomic and resulted in the creation of landless estimated around 300 million.
The land has passed on into the hands of big rich farmers who bought it from the small farmers for a pittance. The country is once again facing the emergence of new landlords some of whom own village after village, pay no taxes as agricultural income is tax-exempt. These landlords not only own vast chunks of the land but with income-tax-free earnings now run hotels and miscellaneous other businesses. Many of these new feudals are politicians for whom politics is a business of protecting their landholdings.
Where do we go from here? Will the farm laws enacted by the government help the landless and reduce poverty in the countryside or help poor farmers. If one has to go by any other country’s example, then it has to look at the United States of America where small farms have totally disappeared into the hands of Corporates. Do we want that to happen in India? It can happen, after all, India’s corporates will love tax-free income from agriculture.
It is time to talk to the farmers, the landless, the people who know what is happening in rural India if poverty has to be eradicated. The big farmers, rich as they are not happy that the new laws may give them competition from the Corporates. In any case, the rich farmers including Corporate agricultural companies need to be taxed say on income above a certain level. Let it not be forgotten that agriculture was exempted from tax in the past to make it attractive for farmers and others to invest at a time when no one wanted to invest in agriculture.
Corporates in agriculture may pay better wages to the landless or more money to the small farmer for taking his land on contract. Will they? Or will they go for greater mechanical farming reducing the numbers of labourers required America’s agriculture is totally mechanised?
The agitation by the farmers rich or small, whatever, has now run for over four months. There is no end in sight. Farm laws were enacted without consulting the farmers or their unions. It is not just the BJP that is responsible for these laws even the preceding governments had thought of such action.
The way opposition works in the Parliament – shouting slogans, not studying the Bills, with no debate on proposed legislation. These laws which may be seriously defective get passed by a majority because the opposition whose job it is to highlight such defects is usually not there in the House having walked out.
It is time that the Opposition parties seriously consider their role in Parliament. Is it merely to shout slogans, run into the well of the house, walk out and give free hand to the government to get through legislation virtually without any debate or due consideration. The net result people suffer and agitate if a defective law is passed.
To this author, the Farmers agitation has highlighted the crisis in agriculture that the Farm laws fail to address. In the years ahead, with a rising population and hardly any population control measures, the country is only going to witness far greater numbers of landless poor. It is time to consider the solution and face this crisis.
The Prime Minister has promised to double the income of the farmers and the Farm Laws are said to be a step in that direction. Will the Farm laws really do that or just double the income of rich farmers? Time to sort this out in consultation with the farmers big and small. Bring this agitation to an end and find the solution for rural poverty.
(The author of this opinion piece is the chairman of ANI)
This is a death warrant for small and marginalised farmers. This is aimed at destroying them by handing over agriculture and market to the big corporates. They want to snatch away our land. But we will not let them do this. – Sukhdev Singh Kokri, a farmer
The Indian Farms Reforms of 2020 that refer to the Agricultural Bills passed September 2020 will have major long term international implications. The three new laws aim to deregulate Indian agriculture, by encouraging farmers to sell directly to companies. The current Indian Government which is keen to increase FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) is encouraging the corporate sector through these laws to enter the farming sector that will drive small farmers out of their ancestral occupation. The laws are worded in favour of big money and corporate farming. The Indian government has a slogan of ‘Make in India’.
These laws are likely to be an experiment in India and result in multinational corporations seeking similar legal frameworks and policies in other countries, pushing most small farmers out of small family holdings, which currently make 80% of farming in the world.
In the Indian farming sector, the government has long been a middleman, guaranteeing minimum prices or MSPs for some 22 main crops. The Government also provides accessible small markets called ‘mandis’. The new laws say farmers will still have price assurances, but the language is vague and open to interpretation. The farmers are nervous about losing government support. The laws favour the corporate sector, denying farmers right of access to independent courts in case of contractual disputes. The local markets are being forced out of the sector through free market forces. There was no consultation with farmers prior to them being introduced.
The reforms taken together will loosen rules around sale, pricing and storage of farm produce – rules that have protected India’s farmers from the free market for decades. They also allow private buyers to hoard essential commodities for future sales, which only government-authorised agents could do earlier; and they outline rules for contract farming, where farmers tailor their production to suit a specific buyer’s demand. The protests have been the strongest in Punjab and neighbouring Haryana state, where the mandi system is strong and the productivity is high – so only the government has been able to buy that volume of produce at a set price.
Due to the lack of global media coverage and weak response from international leaders, the Indian farmer’s protests against the new reforms are not receiving the coverage they warrant, and the rest of the world is oblivious to the wider implications these reforms carry. The impacts of the reforms stretch further than the Indian farmers, who will face mass poverty due to joblessness and not receiving the financial security the Indian government currently provides through MSP. These impacts will be felt globally, through the economic devastation it will have on millions of Indians, the irreversible environmental damage that comes with large-scale farming, and the unmatched competitions these companies in India will bring to small farmers all over the globe, inevitably putting them out of business.
When one country’s citizens are anguishing in a pandemic of poverty, no other country should benefit from their suffering, but rather should provide financial aid to help them survive. While the Indian farmers soon to be at the mercy of the large-scale industrial farming will suffer as they will earn less or worse, nothing at all, others will also be impacted. India has the largest population of illiterate adults in the world, totalling an estimate of 287million in 2015 which unavoidably makes it harder for them to get work in other vocations. These new reforms are helping the rich get richer, while the poor get poorer, this is the point where the rest of the world must stand up and put a stop to it.
The environmental impact of large-scale farming is no new news, the devastation has been witnessed by all in the Amazon and been felt worldwide. The major difference between small farming and large-scale farming is the increase in use of pesticides, fertilizers and other toxic farm chemicals. These can poison fresh water, marine ecosystems, air and soil, remaining in the environment for generations. Many pesticides are suspected of disrupting the hormonal systems of people and wildlife, while fertilizer excess pollutes waterways and coral reefs.
The planet is already at breaking-point and as citizens of the world we need to start putting the planet before profit, hence fore, saying no to large-scale industrial farming despite the income it will bring to a government, and saying yes to supporting small farming.
Large scale industrial farming in India will create more competitions for the small farmers around the world and the big companies will be able to offer cheaper prices and lager volumes that small farms cannot compete with.
Across Europe small farms are disappearing as they struggle to compete with large multinational agro-businesses. They are under pressure from land grabbing, and they face serious challenges to secure public support, as they are often considered unviable and outdated. This will only get worse when India is taken over by large-scale farming producing more food at a cheaper price. Small farms in Europe and other areas of the globe, will not be able to compete and eventually will have to sell their land to survive.
You might be asking yourself why small farming is so much better for the world, both environmentally and sociologically. While the reasons are endless, the primary five would be: it promotes communities; creates jobs; improves health of the land; improves health of the people and; provides a foundation for a more resilient food system.
The worry is that India is an experiment and that the corporate farming businesses around the world are looking at how it will play out. If the Indian government succeeds in deregulating farming in India and letting corporate sector to drive out small farmers in large numbers, other countries will follow suit. What is happening in India today, will happen around the world tomorrow. It is a threat to around half a billion small farmers globally. It will affect some of the world’s poorest people and destroy the planet. Please take action now and support petitions in support of small farmers.
Apart from the unconventional way the laws were rushed through Parliament, a hallmark of Modi regime, where every policy appears to be an ‘emergency’, there are serious concerns about the legitimacy of these laws in relation to international norms and treaties. Denial of access to independent justice, lack of independent evaluation of crop prices and failure to consult before enacting policy or law breach international treaties. The Indian government cannot really claim it is an internal matter of sovereignty.
A scrutiny of these laws in Parliament would have revealed that they are violating some substantial undertakings that the Indian State has committed to at the international level and that are part of UN treaties.
Foremost is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that India had joined as early as 1948 and is the mother of all human rights laws in the world now. Article 7 states that, ‘everyone is equal before the law and is entitled without discrimination to equal protection of the law’
In the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 2 guarantees every individual remedy by competent judiciary
(1) Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognized in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind, such as ….. property …. or other status.
(2) Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes:
(b) To ensure that any person claiming such a remedy shall have his right thereto determined by competent judicial, administrative or legislative authorities, or by any other competent authority provided for by the legal system of the State, and to develop the possibilities of judicial remedy.
The current Farm Laws deny access to independent justice and make a difference between farmers who have small farms as property and the rest of Indian citizens. In any contractual dispute, contesting parties can go to a competent independent court. However, farmers will have to take their contractual disputes with big corporations to a Government officer. When do Government officers become ‘independent’ of Government policy particularly in a country where there is a large trust deficit in government officers.
The second obligation that India has signed up to at the UN is the setting up of a process of independent evaluation of farm produce. In 2018, after 17 years of deliberations and debates, the United Nations passed a Declaration on Rights of Peasants (UNDROP). The United Kingdom was one of the countries opposing it. But India voted in favour, signed it and accepted it.
The Declaration states that there is a need to give farmers a fair price in relation to inputs. This is appreciated by all major international institutions. In UNDROP
(3) ‘States shall take appropriate measures to promote the access of peasants and other people working in rural areas to a fair, impartial and appropriate system of evaluation and certification of the quality of their products at the local, national and international levels, and to promote their participation in its formulation.’
A minimum price for crop is an essential basis of small scale farming. The normal rules of business cannot be applied to much of the world’s farming. Small farming is an occupation rather than a business. About 80% of the world’s farming is small farming, whether in Africa, China or USA.
Modern farming has become very mechanised. It is not profitable at small scale. The costs of mechanised inputs, such as fuel, tractors, electricity can be considerably high. The demand for the crop may be low. The crop may also be substandard at times due to climate or other factors. Farming is not like manufacturing industry where one can adjust the quality of the final product depending on inputs and labour.
Large scale farming however can be a sustainable business with known inputs, some crop diversity and economies of scale. If all farming becomes large scale, nearly half a billion people will join the unemployment market in the world. In India this will be around 125 million.
Small farming is also good for the environment. Farmers tend to grow hedges around their farms, a few trees for shelter from the sun and rain and grow a diversity of crops catering to local market and a few lines for the national market.
Hence most governments prefer small farms. Realising that small farming is not sustainable if run on commercial terms, Governments subsidise farming. It is a form of social security. It provides food security, a diversity of produce and keeps one of the oldest occupations thriving.
International institutions such as United Nations, International Labour Organisation and World Bank also recognise this. The ILO states, ‘Fair Trade is a trading partnership based on dialogue, transparency and respect. It contributes to sustainable development by offering better trading conditions, such as securing the rights of, marginalised producers and workers…
The 2018 United Nations Declaration on Rights of Peasants also ensures that there is independent pricing that is not left to the big corporates.
(3) States shall take appropriate measures to promote the access of peasants and other people working in rural areas to a fair, impartial and appropriate system of evaluation and certification of the quality of their products at the local, national and international levels, and to promote their participation in its formulation.
India is a signatory to the above provision. It is breaching its commitment if it fails to provide this.
The UNDROP also promotes the idea of local markets, or Mandis as called in India.
(2) States shall take appropriate measures to favour the access of peasants and other people working in rural areas to the means of transportation, and processing, drying and storage facilities necessary for selling their products on local, national and regional markets at prices that guarantee them a decent income and livelihood.
(3) States shall take appropriate measures to strengthen and support local, national and regional markets in ways that facilitate, and ensure that peasants and other people working in rural areas have, full and equitable access and participation in these markets to sell their products at prices that allow them and their families to attain an adequate standard of living.
Even if the Government agrees to introduce amendments to the laws, it is breaching another fundamental right under UNDROP that India has already signed up to. That is the duty to consult farmers before enacting policy and recognising food sovereignty.
(1) Peasants and other people working in rural areas have the right to active and free participation, directly and/or through their representative organizations, in the preparation and implementation of policies, programmes and projects that may affect their lives, land and livelihoods
(4) Peasants and other people working in rural areas have the right to determine their own food and agriculture systems, recognized by many States and regions as the right to food sovereignty. This includes the right to participate in decision-making processes on food and agriculture policy and the right to healthy and adequate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods that respect their cultures.
While the government may have bypassed the normal procedures of enacting law in India and obstructed any meaningful debate and while it may say that it has enacted the bills legally, the fact is they breach several international treaties and norms. When domestic law breaches international law, it gives scope to other countries to take up the issue. The principle of sovereignty and ‘internal affair’ as the British Foreign secretary used to skirt around the farm laws, does not actually hold.
In giving power to international law and agreements, Article 253 of the Indian constitution states, ‘Parliament has power to make any law for the whole or any part of the territory of India for implementing any treaty, agreement or convention with any other country or countries or any decision made at any international conference, association or other body.’
Admittedly India’s commitment made at the UN is only enforceable if it introduces it in domestic law. However India should not be making laws that contravene these agreements. It may exercise sovereignty and take the position that the law is legitimate, The fact is the three farm laws breach international commitments and treaties and are against international conventions.
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