Amir Ullah Khan and Raju R Bhupathiraju
After nearly two months of protests, the farm sector is finally something several people are getting interested in. Having ignored the farmer for long, it is high time we all begin to understand what the farm protests are about. On one hand there are a number of those from the establishment who have argued that these are protest being orchestrated by a few farmers from Punjab. They are also arguing that these farmers do not understand that these new laws will benefit farmers and are reforms that are much needed today.
On the other hand, the protestors are arguing that the new laws have been passed in a hurry when the country is distracted by a pandemic. These laws will take away the farmers’ rights to a minimum support price. They will also allow large corporate interests to hoard essential commodities and will not allow farmers to go to court against contractors who renege on their promise. In an attempt to understand this imbroglio and gather the various concerns against the new farm bills, we conducted a roundtable with some eminent experts and gathered the following points.
Minimum Support Price
Since the advent of the Green Revolution (GR), when India was not self-sufficient in food, a mechanism of Minimum Support Price (MSP) was brought in, so that the farmer’s gets a minimum assurance on prices for the basic crops under Price Support Scheme (PSS). Twenty of these crops are: Paddy, Jowar, Bajra, Maize, Ragi, Tur-Dal, Moong-Dal, Urad-Dal, Cotton, Groundnut, Sunflower Seed, Soyabean, Sesame, Niger Seed, Wheat, Barley, Gram, Masur-Dal, Mustard Seed, Safflower, Copra, Dehusked Coconut, Raw Jute and Sugar Cane.
Today almost 5 decades since the advent of the GR, almost all of these crops are in a state of surplus production in India. The case for MSP negates itself as what it aimed to achieve has been attained, which is self-sufficiency in basic/essential food commodities. Unfortunately, though, the governments have seldom been able to transform the cultivation patterns after the achievement of these self-sufficiency goals. A large chunk of our subsistence level farmers still cultivate only the very basic essential food/grain which gives them a basic assured return whatever the market conditions are. With surplus attained in the essential food production, and the seams of the storage corporations bursting many times over, burdened with these surplus stocks, the government now needs to make a fundamental change in the way cropping is done in the country.
The right to appeal
There is a serious concern to the citizens’ rights under Article 32 of the constitution of India. Article 32 is the “Right to Constitutional Remedies”, which states that the citizen is empowered to move the courts for enforcement of their rights. Chapter 4, section 18 of the ‘Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Bill, 2020’ withholds the citizen/farmer’s right to constitutional legal remedies by quoting the following: “No suit, prosecution, or other legal proceedings shall lie against the Central Government, the State Government, the Registration Authority, the Sub-Divisional Authority, the Appellate Authority or any other person for anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done under the provisions of this Act or any rule made thereunder”. Verbal contracts could also be made under this law, which has the farmers even more wary, as there is no legal remedy according to Chapter 4, section 18 of the ‘Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Bill, 2020’. Change is the need of the hour, both for the farmer to flourish beyond sustenance farming, and for the government to go beyond drowning in surplus food/essential stocks.
The trust deficit
This government’s style of functioning has been bulldozing its way through legislation or reform with a brute majority and no inclusion of voices, opinions, discussions in the legislatures. Through the course and in the dead of the pandemic, this government brought in some of the most critical reforms that the country has seen in decades–mostly without discussion in the legislatures or without answering the opposition’s questions. In the last session of the parliament, the Q&A session was cancelled. This season, the whole parliament session has been cancelled. Laws were introduced in the nick-of-the-minute and passed without circulation of draft copies being given out ahead of time. Neither was there a robust discussion after their immediate introduction, thus sowing a seed of trust-deficit of the ruling party (themselves).
This government in its first term (2014-2019) made tall claims that every single farmer would be given a soil testing card and that all soils in the country would be catalogued and cared for respectively. Nothing significant has happened even almost in the second year into their second term. This government’s flipflops on the Swaminathan report has made them lose the farmer’s trust and their credibility that the farmer can trust them to stand by their policy/word.
In the present scenario, no consultation with farmers in coming up with the farm bills and bulldozing them through the parliament have created this gargantuan trust deficit with the government. Doubling of farm incomes as promised long ago is still a pipe dream. Further, it has given reason(s) for the farmers to mistrust the government.
This government seems to be getting a taste of their own medicine when it comes to their ways of shock-and-awe administration. The shock they gave the farmer by the sudden introduction/reform of the set of Farm-Laws-2020, without any credibility building in their last term seems to have bitten them back with the same shock-and-awe that the farmer is giving it by not willing to go back an inch until the whole laws are scrapped and the process of drafting change starts over again; this time with them being included.
The need of the hour
Indian farming needs to change its ways. The Indian farmer needs to be brought out of their eternal-subsistence-model of farming. Our farmers should not be at the mercy and ravages of nature, capital needs and that of the greed of the markets. They need to be empowered. And they first need to be empowered with the trust of the government. For all their toil, our farmers deserve much more than the meagre Rs. 75,000 annually per acre that they make. For an average a farm size of less than 3 acres, this amount is anything but basic survival.
It now falls on the peoples’ representatives to make the farmer trust them to believe in their policies and reform. No trust can be built by shock-an-awe, if anything the only thing that will come out of this model of governance is either blind belief or absolute trust deficit. We have seen both these emanating in the present times. The absolute majority that the government presently has in the centre and a lot of states, and the absolute trust-deficit it has with the minorities and now the most resilient farmer of the country.
The Indian farmer is one of the most resilient people in the country. He sweats, toils in the ravages of weather, un-irrigated fields, lack of technology, lack of capital, lack of markets, lack of legal-safe-guards, lack of health care and so on. One thing the Indian farmer is not willing to lack is their self-respect. All the farmer expects of the government now is to give a written assurance that it will include them in the planning of their futures, and make things black-and-white of the government’s intentions, plans, and implementations.
Amir Ullah Khan and Ramachandra Raju Bhupathiraju are researchers at the CRIDP