FARMERS PROTEST- THE WAY AHEAD

Recently, there is an upsurge on the internet for the ongoing farmers protest which started long back after the Parliament introduced three ordinances, namely the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance 2020 and lastly the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance 2020. The question is “Why are the farmers protesting the ordinances?”

The Union Government by introducing the above ordinances aimed to provide an alternative to the APMC system and allow the farmers to sell directly to the buyers, bypassing the government to enter into a contract with private companies which is called as Contract Farming. It also allows the farmers to hoard goods. Previously also the contract farming system existed, but that was based on only verbal contract whereas now as per the new ordinances, the same will be written to ensure that the rights of the farmers can be better protected. 

Previously, when farmers used to sell crops through auction at the State’s Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC), they used to get an MSP (Minimum Support Price). After the introduction of the new norms, the Farmers are claiming that the Bills will phase out the MSP and the Grain Market system will crush the small and marginal farmers as they will have to be dependent on Corporations and such private firms, who will then exploit them. 

Moreover, Section 19 of the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020 states that any dispute caused between the farmers and corporations will be resolved by a sub-divisional magistrate. Now, the Corporations might have an upper hand over here because farmers lack the financial capacity of affording litigation costs. 

However, in the case of M/S Nandan Biomatrix Ltd. v. S. Ambika Devi & Ors., the SC stated where the farmer has purchased goods or availed of services in order to grow produce for his/her livelihood, the fact that the said produce is being sold back to the seller or service provider or to a third party cannot stand in the way of the farmer and the farmer will come under the ambit of the definition of a ‘Consumer’ under Consumer Protection Act, 1986 and thus a dispute in contract farming can be resolved through  Consumer Forums, i.e. the Consumer Commissions as well; but sadly the same is neither informed to the farmers nor is it mentioned in the bills. 

The protest “Delhi Chalo” had reached its ceiling limit when on the tenth day of their ongoing protests on the borders of Delhi, farmer leaders ran out of patience and embraced twenty-five minutes ‘maun vrat’ and refused to speak. They are just holding up a placard where they want a straight answer either in ‘yes’ or ‘no’. 

However, the answer cannot be summed in a single word as the problem is complicated and better communication needs to occur from both the sides. Farmers have always nurtured seeds to provide for our nation but as of now the miscommunication is resulting in an alarming situation of chaos.  

“No Farmer, No Food” the farmers should be better informed about their rights by the Government. On the other hand, the Government should incorporate farmers’ requests, for instance, providing clarifications on the status of MSP. Amending the bills as to the farmers’ request instead of completely doing away with the bills might be an approach for overcoming the tedious situation. 

OVERVIEW OF THE NEWLY INTRODUCED FARMERS BILLS 2020

Two new bills relating to agriculture and farmers were introduced in June and were passed by Rajya Sabha on 23rd September 2019. Those agricultural bills are- 

  1. 1. The Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation Ordinance, 2020)
  2. 2. The Farmer’s (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm. 

These bills will impact the farmers, the consumers, the state and the middlemen established in the APMC system. 

The Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce bill aims to create an ecosystem where the farmers are free to sell their produce wherever and to whomever they want to, which directly paves way for the establishment of inter and intra state trade of farmers produce. The same is protected under the second bill as mentioned above which makes rules and regulations for empowering farmers to trade with various businesses and wholesalers. 

However, it doesn’t repeal or replace the previously established system which is under the Agriculture and Produce Marketing Committee Act. Hence, the bill is creating a choice for the farmers to carry out their trade on their will. 

In the previous APMC act, the farmer had to go through the “Mandis” as established in the act after which the commission agents would take their produce for traders to auction and purchase. The auction has to necessarily start at the Minimum Support Price which is decided by the Government of India. This price is decided for certain products only and this provision has not been repealed in the new ecosystem. The commission agents collect a market fee, cess and other taxes which are then collected by the State Governments which forms a huge part of their revenue. 

These bills address the issue of monopoly established by the traders through APMC. But the problem or difficulty with the bill is that it will be beneficial only if implemented effectively and if practiced by the farmers; given that they are aware of the same. Educating farmers about their rights and making them aware is an important part of the implementation process. 

Apart from that, the removal of middlemen will definitely benefit the consumers since the products will be comparatively cheaper. 

However, this bill will largely affect the State Revenue since they will not be receiving any taxes in the new ecosystem. Even though the bill aims to benefit the farmers, the view of the states was not considered appropriately and the states were not even given a fair participation in the Rajya Sabha where they protested against the bill.

A potential solution to that could be that the bills be introduced to a Select Committee which consisted of agricultural experts and the opposition being given a chance to be heard.

In that manner, the bill could have been speculated so as to benefit all and be compatible with the federal structure of the constitution and thereby upheld the democratic process of making a legislation.

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