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Farm Bills In India: History of Reforms and Protest

The border of the Nation’s Capital burned for three months. The reason being the faulty implementation of the following three farm bills in India:

  1. The Farmers Produce Trade And Commerce Act,
  2. Agreement On Price Assurance And Farm Services Act, and
  3. The Essential Commodities Act.

The Bill was in a sense bulldozed by the Central Government to be an Act without any respect for debate and deliberation, either in the Parliament nor with the  ‘Annadatas’ (farmers) of our homeland. The Farmers Protest Movement has been met with serious concern and criticisms from International forums like the United Nations and Head of Sovereign Democracies to the Global North showing their solidarity with the farmers.

But every concern and criticism has been blown away by the present government, calling it an illiterate motivation to bring about chaos and turn a domestic issue into a geo-political movement. It seems the wheel of democracy in India has in the recent past switched from principled beneficiary based agenda to petty opportunism.

Intentions of Farm Bills in India

The main rationale of the government behind implementation of this bill was to revolutionize agriculture, enhance the socio-economic condition of the people who work in ‘ acres and not hours.’ The bill (now an act) aimed to promote growth and development of the Agrarian Economy by bringing in private players and unleashing corporatization of agriculture by luring in investment and modern technology.

In doing so, the present government tried to portray their ambition of doubling farmers’ income by 2022. In contrast, however, it has created in its path many loopholes and areas of concern not only for the farmers but also for the middle class economic strata of the Indian society who get sandwiched between these lofty policies of the government every year.

One of the principal reasons of infuriation against the new laws was that all disputes that were previously adjudicated by the Civil Courts would be placed under Sub-Divisional Magistrates, or Collectors. However, the government on receiving backlash from the protesting farmers has assured that they will bring about an amendment, which ensures the farmers receive remedy from the Civil Court in case of a dispute.

Agricultural Produce Market Committee

The second case of alienation among the farmers was the veiled abolition of the APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) system. The APMC safeguards the interest of the farmers and protects them against exploitation by the retailers. The Central Government in response to these allegations has put forward an assurance that they would bring about an amendment that will allow State Governments to determine the cess/fee in the private agricultural market or ‘mandis’.

sociology terms - Alienation

It was in clear contrast to the original bill which had a strong centralising tendency. However annihilation of APMC all together is not a good sustainable step. It is true that the APMC have gained enough political patronage and capital emoluments, in the name of safeguarding the interests of the farmers, meanwhile, exploiting their very root. APMC which serves as a symbol of the ‘Controlled Price Regime’ of Pre-liberated India, should not be demolished in such an abrupt manner but rather should be revised to meet the present demands.

Minimum Support Price and Farm Bills in India

The most distinctive and an area of grave concern for the agroused farmers was the abolition of the MSP (Minimum Support Price) regime. Agricultural experts too share similar concerns, that the abolition of the MSP would leave the farmers vulnerable to the market forces of demand and supply. The protesting farmers believe that such a draconian step would make them look unprotected and fragile against the corporate players.

The Government has talked about giving a written assurance to the farmers that MSP will remain intact but the protesting aggrieved farmers has shunned down such a callous and informal response from the government. The Farmers Representative Committee is no longer relying on any hoaxy assurances by the government. They want a complete revision of the MSP system making it a fundamental right for all farmers across the country because the Shanta Kumar Committee Report totally exposed the MSP scam detailing that only 6% of the ‘Elitist Farmers Group’ in India actually get the benefit of MSP.

Critique of Farm Bills in India

The armchair strategist and agricultural economists in favour of the Farm bills argue that it is the need of the hour to diversify Indian agriculture. According to them, farmers should get the opportunity to expand the horizons of cultivation and not just get limited to wheat and rice which are being overladen in the cold storages of FCI (Food Corporation Of India) because of excess supply.

However, one thing that we should clearly instil in our mind, the farmers are not ignorant nor a laymen who just ploughs the field. When they cultivate any crop, they make sure that they get a viable return on their investment or at least secure a break even price. The question is why would a farmer take up a crop which does not guarantee a basic MSP and substitute that for ‘Wheat or Rice’ which has the highest MSP out of just 23 crops which are provisioned under it?

The S.S. Johl Report on ‘Diversification Of Agriculture’ highlighted alternatives such as Maize to be produced but the concern with Maize is that it has a very negligible support price for the farmers.It is thus , a clear case of jeopardized policy making. “Wheat and Rice are the only option available for farmers to earn money!”

Agricultural Reforms in India

Prominent Indian Economist and the Former Deputy Chairman Of The Planning Commission Of India Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia on discussing the analogy of the 1991 Reforms to that of the Agrarian Reforms argued that the former is totally juxtaposed to the present Farm Bill (Act).

India’s liberalisation process which was initiated through the 1991 reforms was gradualist in nature as opposed to the present Agriculture Reforms which has been hurled at a time, when the nation is battling the COVID Pandemic and the economy staggering with a declining growth rate as a result of the various administrative catastrophe throughout the years. He also laid emphasis to the fact that the present agrarian reforms act has pushed agricultural marketing to the back burner.

He particularly believes that reforms in Indian agriculture should have been rolled out from 2022 (the expected year of economic recovery) on a gradual basis. Indian Agricultural Economist, Ashok Gupta , as opposed to the fallacy of the present Farm Bills had earlier propagated a ‘ Farm To Fork Policy’ which would be carried with aid from the corporate and private players. However, he firmly believed the need to keep a firm watch on the corporates and in the process strengthen the ‘sickle of the farmers.’

Final Consideration

Lastly, the farm bills might have been undertaken keeping in mind the welfare of the farmers, but the initiation and way of doing it has killed the very foundation of centre-state relationship in the process.

Indian Philosophy and Society

Adhrish Chakraborty

Adhrish Chakraborty is a student of Political Economy and International Relations at Scottish Church College. His writing is primarily focused on various socio-economic developments and its multi-dimensional impact upon the most vulnerable societal clusters of the Indian Economy. You can connect with Adhrish on Instagram.