Despite the high incidence of Covid-19 infection in Delhi and in the winter, millions of farmers, men and women, have been marching for miles and miles on tractors from Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh to the Singur border near Delhi. Police barricaded them, dug roads, but the government could not stop the farmers. They are adamant in their opposition to the central government’s agricultural law. Their only demand is that the government should lift the three new anti-farmer laws.
Although farmers from three states have come to Delhi, it does not mean that farmers from other states in India are not protesting against these three laws. In fact, protests have spread all over India. It is not possible for everyone to come to Delhi. As the days go by and the support towards the farmers is also increasing due to the inflexible behavior of the government. Various opposition political parties are also supporting the demands of the farmers.
Last September, the Government of India announced a reform in agricultural management and the sale of produced crops. Since then, millions of angry farmers have marched on the capital Delhi. Here are three bills:
1. The Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce Bill, 2020, enables farmers to do business directly with various agribusiness companies, wholesalers, exporters or large retailers.
2. Farmers’ Price Assurance and Farm Services Agreement Bill, 2020. Through this, contract-based farming system will be legalized by fixing the price in advance and
3. Under the Essential Commodities Amendment Bill, 2020, food grains, pulses, oilseeds, onions and potatoes will be removed from the list of essential commodities and the upper limit for stockpiling certain agricultural products will be lifted.
The gist of these three bills is that the state enacted the neoliberal free market system in agriculture. It is as if the Union Minister for Agriculture and Agricultural Welfare, Narendra Singh, is releasing your farmers to the market and saying, go and sell your crops “freely” as much as you can, the government will no longer take responsibility for you. The Minimum Support Price (MSP) of long-standing conventional crops in India would provide a kind of protection to the farmers, they would be guaranteed a minimum price by selling their crops.
The structural injustice imposed on agriculture and farmers in the interest of industry and urbanization would have been somewhat addressed. But the three new bills have been passed in such a way that in the name of “freeing” or freeing the farmers, they have been handed over to the big companies. Farmers understand the meaning of these laws, so they are strongly opposed to it. All these laws have been enacted to hand over the country’s agricultural sector and crop marketing system to a few corporate companies.
In India, those who have spoken out in support of the farmers’ protest against the new agricultural bill understand that none of the three bills address the problems that have been addressed in the past. On the contrary, the farmers have been faced with new problems.
Punjab and Haryana started the green revolution, but the farmers there are no better today. The experience of Punjab is instructive for those who speak out for an indiscriminate green revolution in Bangladesh. The income of the farmers in this state is less than the income of the unskilled workers of the city, and the survival of agriculture will no longer be possible with the technology of the Green Revolution. As a result, these farmers are protesting against the new law of the government. Being close to Delhi, they are leading the “Let’s go to Delhi” campaign. However, when they came to Delhi under siege, many people came and stood by their side. These farmers have been fed by various mosques and gurudwaras. The farmers themselves have cooked and eaten on the road.
Like many other countries, India does not provide direct income assistance to its farmers. Earlier, various agricultural schemes failed to do so. Instead, the government buys grains such as rice and wheat. These grains were later stored in the warehouses of the state-owned Food Corporation of India. From there it is sold to the public at a subsidized price.
In this system farmers had to sell their produce at a fixed price. Assistance was provided as well; Irrigation, fertilizer and seeds required for cultivation. The context of this system is the 1980s. At that time there were many famines all over India. The country could not even produce enough food to meet its needs. Despite the humiliation, India has survived on US food aid for several years. At that time it was called; ‘Ship to Mouth Existence.’
At that time, US President Lyndon B. Under Johnson’s pressure and the advice of American economists, Indian policymakers abandoned the Soviet economic model. It is replaced by the principle of minimum pricing. This was followed by the so-called ‘Green Revolution’, which doubled the production of wheat in less than a decade.
However, under this subsidy policy, farmers are more encouraged to produce only rice and wheat. Decreased cultivation of vegetables. The prices of these vegetables are very different. Even the central bank’s own efforts to control inflation are often hampered by rising vegetable prices.
India, on the other hand, now produces huge quantities of grain. A large part of it is wasted in government warehouses. This indicates that the agricultural policy formulated during the famine does not apply to today’s India.
In the face of farmers’ protests against these three bills, the agriculture minister has been forced to say that there will be MSPs. But the way the companies and traders have been given priority in the three bills, the farmers are not willing to accept anything other than repeal of the bill. The central government wants to talk to them to amend the objections to the law, but the farmers say there is nothing to amend the bad law, it must be repealed.
What Experts think:
Agriculture activist Kavita Kuruganti says not everyone gets the minimum support price (MSP) for crops, that’s right. It was necessary to make sure that everyone got it, to increase the bargaining power of small farmers, to make arrangements for stockpiling agricultural products so that they could sell at convenient times – all this was needed. The biggest thing was that they needed to be freed from debt. But the government has done the opposite. They have given free rein to the company so that they do not face any hurdle in purchasing, processing and storing agricultural products. In other words, they are washing their hands of their responsibilities and throwing the farmers into the unequal market system.
Food and agriculture expert Debinder Sharma gives some examples of how much the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of a crop is required for a farmer. In a fit of rage, the farmers picked up the tractor and destroyed everything, or someone fed the cows. Not only in Madhya Pradesh but all over India the farmers have to suffer from this problem. Therefore, it is very fair for the farmers to want to maintain the MSP. At least there should be a price that will not be less than the price of the crop.
Devinder says that the farmers who provide food to the people all over the country are themselves living in poverty. Their annual income is only 26,000 rupees. It is true that only 6% of the farmers got MSP benefits, the remaining 94% of the farmers were dependent on the market and they were deprived of fair prices in that market. The MSP assures them a minimum price and that opportunity needs to be expanded. And MSP needs to be legalized. There is no point in pushing the market that has only deceived the farmer to compete in that market again.
Perspective of Bangladesh:
Farmers in Bangladesh are in a similar position to get the price of the crop, but they are not yet given the minimum price benefit. They depend on the market. When the crop is good, the farmer gets his hands on it. If there is a good yield of winter vegetables including tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, the price goes down so much that the farmer does not even bear the cost of picking the crop from the field. They also leave the field crops in the field. Anger brings grief to the streets. All these pictures are almost printed in newspapers, but there is no one to remedy it.
There are also examples of contract farming in our country. Such as tobacco cultivation. The tobacco company fixes the price in advance with the farmer and cultivates it with loans, seeds, fertilizers and poisons but in the end the grade of the tobacco leaves is not right and forces the farmer to pay less than the contract price. According to the farmer, the cost of production is brought up. But even if there is no profit, you have to go through the trap of contract every year. This system is going on illegally, is anyone watching?
Throwing agriculture indiscriminately into a free market system is like leaving the farmers orphaned without fulfilling obligation of playing a moral role. The peasant protests in Delhi remind us of that. This is the educational aspect of Bangladesh from the farmers of Delhi.
The writer is graduate student of University of Dhaka.