Understanding the rationale of farm protests

We need an empathetic government with a moral compass to urgently find a solution to the satisfaction of the farmers. Engaging in dilatory tactics and subterfuge will further exacerbate the growing trust deficit between the farming community and the Centre.

The recently enacted farm laws and the amendment to the Essential Commodities Act by the Union government has led to a standoff with no resolution in sight. Farmer organisations and several state governments had conveyed their opposition to the laws at the time of the promulgation of the ordinances. However, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central government, which exhibits disdain for efforts to build consensus through wider consultations, proceeded to push the bills through Parliament without any meaningful discussion with the Opposition parties.

The disinformation campaign launched by the BJP to mislead the public that the present laws accord freedom to the farmers to sell their produce to whoever they choose/desire is far from the truth. Under the current/existing Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) model, the farmers already have the choice to sell their produce to private parties. The transactions take place at APMC mandis, which are regulated and safeguard the farmer from exploitation at the hands of the multinational companies (MNCs). The Centre is seeking to replace the existing agricultural marketing system with a handful of intermediaries who will be under no obligation to pay the minimum support price (MSP) to the farmers.

The Centre has overlooked a fundamental aspect that no one size of farming pattern fits all. Our founding fathers were conscious of this ground reality and placed agriculture under the State List of the Constitution. The National Agricultural Research Project divides our country into 127 different agro-climatic zones. The different zones include varying landholding patterns, weather/climate, soil content, production patterns and water levels. The present laws fail to factor in the heterogeneity in our farming patterns and attempt to impose the Bihar model of agriculture, which has failed to yield dividends to the farmers.

The vilification campaign against the arhtiyas overlooks the supportive role played by this irreplaceable cog in the agricultural wheel. It is the arhtiya to whom the farmers look to for financial support for the purchase of fertilisers, short-term loans and family needs; both enjoy a relationship of mutual trust. The midnight Income Tax (IT) raids on officer-bearers of the arhtiya association in Punjab reflects the mindset of the BJP.

Such high-handed measures undertaken with an objective to browbeat and intimidate supporters of this peaceful movement have become part of the BJP agenda to quell legitimate criticism and dissent. Corporates, with their profit maximisation motive and impersonal transactional relationship, can never fill the shoes of an arhitya. The unilateral imposition of the present laws, without taking the farmers into confidence, has further widened the trust deficit between the agriculturists and big business.

The amendment to the Essential Commodities Act, 2020, gives carte blanche to hoarders and traders to engage in predatory pricing. The statement of objects and reasons for the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, was to regulate and check hoarding of essential items and black-marketing of food produce by unscrupulous traders. The recent amendment removes cereals, pulses, oil seeds, edible oil, onions and potatoes from the list of “essential items”, facilitating unlimited hoarding and speculative trade.

As a consequence of the recent amendment, the government can step in to regulate the stock limit for these food items only in the event of a war, famine, natural calamity or an extraordinary price rise in retail value.

Unless there is a 100% price increase in retail price of the aforesaid items, the government is proscribed from intervening to check hoarding and black-marketing of food produce and cereals. This facilitates the path for exploitation of the consumers and will lead to inflationary pressures across sectors.

The labelling of protesting farmers as “anti-nationals” has led to justifiable anguish among the farming community. Every household of Punjab and Haryana has made innumerable sacrifices for the country right from the time of the freedom movement. The role played by Punjab in defending our nation’s territorial integrity and in feeding the country in the time of the food crisis is well recorded in history. Thousands of ex-servicemen, who have served at our borders, are part of the farmer protests and are seeking redressal of their legitimate grievances. Over 50 farmers have lost their lives at the protest sites owing to low temperatures and difficult living conditions.

We need an empathetic government with a moral compass to urgently find a solution to the satisfaction of the farmers. Engaging in dilatory tactics and subterfuge will further exacerbate the growing trust deficit between the farming community and the Centre.

Vijay Inder Singla is the Cabinet Minister for Education and PWD, Government of Punjab. Aadil Singh Boparai is a lawyer and a Congress party spokesperson

The views expressed are personal

Source: Hindustan Times

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