New Farm Acts: Why Are Farmers Protesting?

    Amidst the appalling crumble of the nation’s economy due to the rampant Covid-19 pandemic situation, the Union Cabinet on 5th June 2020 promulgated three ordinances seeking to revamp the Agricultural Sector in India, reshuffling the existing skeleton of the said market. These three agricultural acts, commonly referred to as Farm Acts 2020 includes – Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act. These bills were passed by the Parliament of India on 27th September 2020 after it received Presidential assent and duly notified in the Official Gazette. 

    The bills were introduced inter alia to remove several barriers in the agricultural markets by creating an ecosystem where the farmers can enjoy liberty to sell farm products outside the ‘Krishi Mandis’ registered under the State APMCs, enabling the farmers in doing electronic trading to curtail the transportation and marketing cost in order to help getting the farmers better prices. But the whole nation has witnessed vigorous protests from the farmers all across the country especially from the farmers of Punjab and Haryana rallying against these Acts.  These Acts have engendered mistrust among the farmers because of the fear of price security for their crops as they are hitherto struggling with the MSP hurdles.

    FARMER’S CONTENTIONS

    Ever since the Bills were introduced in the Lok Sabha there have been rampant protests on the roads by the farmers’ union of Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and several other states and by the Opposition Leaders. More than ten thousand farmers including their friends and family members farmers gheraoed Delhi borders in pursuance of these protests and in most cases braved water cannons and tear gases. During their protest, they have set several camps, cooked food and have been resisting this biting cold winter. The farmers are calling these newly enacted Acts as Anti-Farmer Acts by addressing its provisions. Before these bills became Act, Sahab Singh, leader of Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) said these protests will be indefinite if these bills are not scrapped, and that they will be compelled to take extreme steps. He further added that the farmers are committing suicides everyday as they are already stressed and if these ordinances will be passed. Reason being, this will destroy agriculture [1]

    The farmers all over the nation are immensely agitated against these acts especially against the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act which permits the sale and purchase of farm products outside the premises of the mandis registered under the State APMC. The farmers desperately want the old system of agricultural marketing to remain intact. The foremost reason for this is that the farmers get aided with financial help from the commission agents for sowing the crops and the farmers return it when the farm products reach the market. Thus, the poor farmers depend on the commission agents and the private money lenders as the banks are skeptical in lending money to the farmers. The Farmers are scared of getting exploited in the hands of the private players.

    Preet Singh, the District President of Akhil Bhartiya Kisan Sabha said that by enacting these three laws, the central government wants to crush the farmers and commission agents that sustain the sector. The government’s assurance of not withdrawing the MSP is doubtful and met with dismay. So, let us discuss the major area of concern among the farmers doing protest even in this severe pandemic situation:

    CONCERN OVER MSP:

    Minimum Support Price is a safety tool for the farmers which the Government guarantees notwithstanding any change in the circumstances. By determining MSP, the Government helps in protecting the farmers from the price drops and also encourages them in further production. In the situations where the market price for the crops falls below the MSP, the Government buys the crops at the fixed   MSP for saving them from distressed sales. Till now, the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) recommended Minimum Support Price for 22 agricultural produce which among others include wheat, paddy, ground nut, soya bean, Gram. Barley, cotton etc. The main concern among the farmers is that the Central Government has been declaring MSP for decades but till now the Parliament of India has not yet passed any law which would mandate the implementation of MSP. There is no legal compulsion for the government to purchase the agricultural produce at the MSP recommended by the CACP as it is not a statutory body. CACP is merely an attached office of the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare.

    The government’s verbal assurance over the fixed MSP has not quenched the thirst of the protesting farmers sitting on Delhi borders. The farmers worry that these newly enacted laws will abolish the MSP regime. The recent Agricultural Acts passed by the Government has no provision in relation to the fixation of MSP.

    SELL OUT TO THE HANDS OF THE CORPORATE:

    Under Section 3 of the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 farmers are allowed to trade in areas including and not restricted to the farm gates, factory gates, factory premises, cold storage etc which earlier could only be done on the mandis established under the state APMC(Agricultural Produce Market Committee). This Act also provides for barrier free inter-state and intra-state trade for the farm products. [2] Furthermore, under section 6 of the Act levying market fee or tax on farmers is prohibited. [3] The farmers are fearing that these legislations will put the farmers at the mercy of the big corporates, retailers and exporters. The farmers are horrified with the thought of not getting MSP for several crops which they used to get in the Mandis of the State APMC. The guaranteed protection available to the farmers will be removed and the big corporates will dictate the poor farmers by unequal payment.

    DISMANTLING OF THE APMC MANDIS:

    The Mandis under the State APMC has been providing the farmers with remuneration to keep them afloat. This is basically a marketing board established by the state governments in order to protect them from exploitation by the private corporates. But by means of the provision of the new legislations, the market became free to be monopolized by the private players. But the major problem with this private player is that there will be no statutory obligation towards them to pay the minimum Support Price to the poor farmers and thus these farmers will get exploited. Furthermore, the private players will not be required to pay market fee which will automatically result in shifting of the trade from the purview of the mandis under the state APMC. So indirectly the government Mandis will now have to fight with the private traders on an uneven playing field.

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    CHANCE OF BLACKMARKETTING:

    The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act has struck down several commodities like pulses, cereals, oilseeds, edible oils, onions and potatoes from the list of the essential commodities which will in return prove to be a threat for food security. This new amendment will allow the traders and agribusinesses to buy unlimited quantities of farm products directly for farmers. There remains a genuine chance of hoarding of the farm products by these traders in times of food emergency. Moreover, in normal times also the private traders can collude among themselves thereby compelling the farmers to sell the farm produce at lower prices and in return selling the same in much higher prices creating an artificial crisis.

     DISPUTE RESOLUTION PROCESS  

    A Contradiction has also arisen regarding the provision of the ‘Dispute Resolution’ in the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act.  The farmers are fearing the threat of the penalty of Rs.25000-Rs. 10 lakhs if a contract is breached and also a further penalty of Rs. 5000-Rs.10,000 per day for the contravention of the Contract under section 11 of the said Act. Thus, it will make the provision of the MSP in APMC Mandi redundant [4].  Furthermore, the farmers fear that the Big Companies will get advantage in the cases of dispute [5]. Moreover, it will be strenuous for the farmers to approach the SDM Courts for dispute resolution. Furthermore, under section 19 of the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, there will be a bar on the jurisdiction of the civil court to entertain any suit or proceeding in respect of any dispute which the Sub-Divisional or Appellate Authority is empowered to decide. [6]

    FARMERS’ DEMANDS

    Farmers decided to intensify their protests after several Farmers’ Union representatives had meetings with the Union Ministers. On Saturday, the union leader decided to sit on a hunger strike on 14th December. Farmer Leader Kanwalpreet Singh Pannu said that they are ready if the government wants to hold talks but their ultimate demand is the scrapping of the new Farm Acts. He further added that thousands of farmers from Rajasthan’s Saharanpur will initiate their ‘Delhi Chalo’ march though Jaipur-Delhi highway [7]  

    Various representatives of different Farmers’ Unions had six rounds of talk with the Government officials. But still the main demand of these farmers is scrapping of these Acts along with the legal assurance of Procurement of the Farm Products at Minimum Support Price. Additionally, the farmers demand for the withdrawal of Electricity (Amendment) Bill,2020 and implementation of Swaminathan Commission Report for fixing MSP with C2+50 percent formula.

    In the midst of the protest by the farmers against these acts, a group named ‘Bhartiya Kisan Union Ekta used this forum to demand the release of Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam, Varavar Rao and many others. But on the other hand, Rakesh Tikait, a farmer leader said that the farm organizations who are protecting against the Farm acts does not support the groups who supports the release of Umar Khalid, Sharjeel Imam and Others [8]

    CONCLUSION

    The Central government has laid down several proposals in order to ease down the protesting farmers and to meet their demands. But the anguished farmers unanimously rejected the proposal as they demand for the complete withdrawal of these farm Acts. The main fear of the farmers is that if the whole agricultural market moves in the hands of the private players then the risk of not getting the MSP for the farm products will increase. The farmers want legal assurance for MSP in order to maintain their economic stability along with the scrapping of these Laws. The farmers are day by day intensifying their protests and are not ready for settling down until and unless these legislations are scrapped. Now the eyes lie on the Government to see what steps it will take to deal with the issue of the farmers and at what means the farmers will settle down.

    REFERENCES

    [1] Manjeet Sehgal, “Here’s Why Farmers Are Protesting Against Three Agriculture Ordinances”, India Today, Sept. 16,2020.

    Available at https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/here-s-why-farmers-are-protesting-against-three-agriculture-ordinances-1722191-2020-09-16

    [2] Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 (Act 21of 2020) s. 3.

    [3] Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 (Act 21of 2020) s. 6.

    [4] Pritam Singh, “Farm Laws: Public Perception Is in Favour of Farmers,  Centre Cannot Be in Denial” The Wire, Dec. 9, 2020.

    Aailable at https://thewire.in/agriculture/farmers-protests-public-perception

    [5] Vishwa Mohan, “Farmers Protest: Laws, Doubts and Centre’s Explanation in a nutshell”, The Times of India, Dec 8, 2020, available at https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/farmers-protest-laws-doubts-and-centres-explanation-in-a-nutshell/articleshow/79625927.cms

    [6] Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act,2020 (Act 20 of 2020) s. 19.

    [7] Express Web Desk, “Farmers’ Protest Highlights: Farmer Union Leaders to Sit on Hunger Strike on Dec 14”, The Indian Express, Dec. 13, 2020

    Available at https://indianexpress.com/article/india/farmers-protest-live-updates-delhi-chalo-punjab-haryana-farm-laws-7100387/ 

    [8] Times Now Bureau, “Farmers’ Protest at Tikri Border: Group Demands Release of Umar, Khalid, Varvara Rao, Others”, Timesnownews.com, Dec. 11, 2020.

    Avaiable at https://www.timesnownews.com/india/article/farmers-protest-at-tikri-border-group-demands-release-of-umar-khalid-varavara-rao-others/693269


    BY TIYASA LODH | LLOYD LAW COLLEGE

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