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What is driving Indian farmers to the streets and protest against the government?

“For decades, the Indian farmer was bound by various constraints and bullied by middlemen. The bills passed by Parliament liberate the farmers from such adversities”; is the tweet of Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the new farm bill passed this week. But if the bill literally means what Mr Modi claims it does; then why thousands of Indian farmers from different parts of the country are protesting against this bill?

Why are farmers begging ‘Kisan Bachao, Mandi Bachao‘ (Save farmers, save the marketplace (APMC))? And how will this new bill indeed affect the farmers?

The history of agriculture in India

Farming can be seen in India since the Indus River Valley Civilization. Fertile soil and river valley furnish ideal ground for growing crops in most parts of the country. Starting from the 3300 BCE to as yet, agriculture has been a significant source of living for millions of people.

Today, India ranks seconds largest farm output producer globally. Agricultural field employes about 50% of the countries workforce and contribute 14-15% to India’s GDP. More than 80% of the rural population earn their livelihood from farming.

Before 2003, Farmers were exploited by the intermediaries where they were forced to sell theirs produces at extremely low prices. To rectify this the government came up with the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Act 2003. Under the APMC act, state government introduces market places (mandi) where farmers can sell theirs produces. Buyers/ traders have to get a licence to becomes eligible for buying grains. The government decides a Minimum Support Price (MSP) for every crop; traders have to pay at least MSP for buying anything from the farmers.

The task of the market committee was

  • Ensuring lucidity of transactions and costing under the mandi.
  • Confirming that the farmer gets payment on the same day.
  • Establishing public-private partnership in the market areas.
  • Laying out market-led extra services to the farmers.

The new reformation in the field of buying and selling of the agricultural product gave the farmers a safe place for business. But like everything APMC act 2003 did have flaws; the prime of them was that getting insurance for trading in the mandi became difficult for traders.

What is the new reform and what does it mean for the Indian farmers?

On Thursday, September 17, the Minister of Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare, Narendra Sigh Tomar introduces a new bill to the Rajya Sabha; Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020. On Sunday, September 20, the bill was passed after a very heated debate, to which most of the opposition still disagrees.

The ruling elite believes that this bill will bind the entire nation into one big market. Previously the authority of APMC was with the state government, but now with the new bill, the authority will be with the central government. The state government cannot charge the farmer or the trader with any market fee on inter-state trading or trading outside the mandi.

This will allow the farmers to trade theirs produces outside the market area, to the private companies, where the buying company or trader do not have to pay any taxes; in other words, the business outside the market will have nothing to do with the government, the agreements will just be of interests of farmers and the company/trader. The new reform is also promoting e-trading, that will enable the farmer to sell their produces online.

Why are Indian farmers protesting?

Farmers don’t agree with the government. They proclaim that the government is making it more convenient for companies to trade outside the marketplace, where they will have no assurance of MSP. Not only farmers but opposition too is protesting against this bill, saying that this bill will make the Indian farmers ‘SLAVE’ of the cooperating companies.

Trading outside the mandi, farmers will not have any support from the government. They claim that they cannot read the lengthy T&Cs by corporate companies and if things go wrong it would be almost impossible for them to judicially fight with these cooperates. Once farmers start selling to the cooperated, they will not have the power to choose what they want to grow.

The government has left us at the mercy of big corporations

For the Indian government’s recently launched ‘one nation, one market’ policy; Bhartiya Kisan Union (Indian Farmer Union) asked Haryana state government for permission of conducting a protest rally against these new ordinances, but their request was denied because of the outrageous spread of coronavirus in the country. But despite that more than 100 farmers rallied on their tractors to show their dissatisfaction towards the government.

Soon, the protest against the government spread in the entire country and now, framers from almost every part are participating in a nationwide protest against the three ordinances and new farm bill. Mass protest ‘Red Tsunami’ against the new farm bill is also going on in Karnataka, a southern state of India.

What is the way out?

The new amendments that the government aim to do through this new bill is going to be more in the interest of co-operates than in that of the farmers. Moreover, if cooperates step into the farming business; the farmers will have the peer pressure of growing more which will furthermore destroy the quality of soil; therefore destroying the environment.

Such market in which government have no intervention in known as “open market“. The open market provides an opportunity to the large-scale farmers, but for marginal and small-scale farmers it will surely not be fruitful. Already a huge portion of the farmers are switching their professions to labourers and migrating to the urban areas, by such bills government is risking those who still have hope in agriculture as a source of income.