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Decoding the Biggest Protest in World History

A ‘reform’ is supposed to mean a change in a social system or institution in order to improve it. Why are then thousands of farmers protesting against the new agricultural reforms?

http://Bloomberg

The farmers’ agitation over the Centre’s new farm laws entered its 32nd day today. The farmers of Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan are staging a sit-in protest at the borders of Delhi, calling for the repeal of the three farm laws. Several talks between the farm unions and the government have resulted in a deadlock. Recently, the official social media handle of Kisan Ekta Morcha conducted a webinar to answer queries regarding the agitation and the farm laws. The panelists answered a number of questions regarding the farm laws and how the implementation of the laws pave the way for privatization of the agricultural industry.

The first law allows for the sale of agricultural produce outside of the government-regulated APMC mandis without paying any state tax or fees. The farmers believe that this law will make the mandis unviable and will introduce private players into the agricultural sector. The law does not assure the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for the farmers. The MSP is an agricultural product price set by the government to safeguard the farmer’s minimum profit from agricultural produce.  This will make them vulnerable to corporate exploitation in the absence of a Minimum Support Price which was guaranteed by the mandi system. The farmers are demanding that the MSP be made a legal right of the farmers so that the private buyers cannot purchase crops below this price. It also allows intra-state trade which might prove to be disastrous for farmers with small landholdings in paying logistical expenses.

“These laws have been made for the traders, not for the farmers,” says a panelist at the Kisan Ekta Morcha webinar.

The second one, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act provides for a national framework for contract farming agreement between the farmer and the buyer before the sowing of any crop. Farmers can enter into contracts with Agriprocessors, wholesalers, exporters, and retailers for the sale of farm produce at a pre-agreed price. However, the law does not guarantee the contract price to be above or even equivalent to the minimum support price. In addition, the law does not provide legal protection to the farmer in the event of a farmer-buyer dispute and the farmers will be weak players against large companies and retailers. In this case, the private buyers can easily change the terms of agreement forcing the farmers to sell their produce at a cheaper price than what was agreed on.

The third, the Essential Commodities Act (Amendment) empowers the Central government to regulate the supply of certain food items only under extraordinary circumstances like war or a natural calamity and remove stock limits. By removing items like pulses, oilseeds, potatoes, onions, and edible oil from the list of essential commodities, the government gives up its power to restrict traders from hoarding produce. There will be no stock limit on agricultural produce unless there is a sudden price rise, i.e., a 100% increase in the retail price of horticultural products and a 50% increase in the retail price of non-perishable agricultural products.

“These laws will hand over agricultural administration to corporate and multi-nationals. If we don’t protest, the government will make more laws like this and encroach on our rights” 

While the government claims that these laws have been introduced to liberalize agriculture, the farmers have argued that they will be instrumental in breaking the very fabric of the rural economy. Moreover, the farmers have challenged the constitutionality of the laws by arguing that the parliament cannot legislate on subjects mentioned exclusively in the State list.

The farmers and protestors are trying their best to convert the farmer’s protest into a people’s protest by taking it to an all-India level and support has been extended to the protestors from people all over the world. Farmers who are unable to reach Delhi have started protesting in their respective states. The agitating farmers have called for boycott of products and facilities promoted by firms owned by Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani. “There is no question of withdrawing the protests until the laws are repealed”, a panelist said at the webinar. However, the farmers have resolved to keep the protest peaceful. Amidst a cold wave that hit Delhi, the agitation continues with full vigor more and more farmers are joining the protest. The next round of talks between the government and the farm unions is scheduled to be held on the 30th of December, 2020.

Since September 15, 41 farmers have sacrificed their lives while protesting against the farm laws. However, it is the spirit of resistance that seems to be undying. While we celebrate December, let us not ignore the fact that the laws will affect not just the farmers, but every Indian. It is our duty to extend our support in favor of the people who form the very backbone of a country’s economy, especially a country with an agrarian economy like India.

Let the Dissenting Citizen not be silenced and let the people’s voice be heard and their demands be met.

The views and opinions expressed by the writer are personal and do not necessarily reflect the official position of VOM.
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