Rajya Sabha passed two of the three farm reforms Bills on Sunday that became a reason for widespread protests, specifically in Haryana and Punjab. In both of these states, the ruling BJP has lost its crucial ally Shiromani Akali Dal. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has asserted that farmers will benefit from the changes, first mentioned as part of the Atmanirbhar Bharat Abhiyan package. The three farm bills, aimed at liberalising trade in agriculture commodities, were passed by Lok Sabha on Friday.
The Centre passed three Bills — the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill.
The first one attempts to do is allow farmers to sell their produce at places other than the APMC-regulated mandis. It is crucial to note that the idea is not to shut down APMCs but to expand a farmer’s choices. So, if a farmer believes a better deal is possible with some other private buyer then he can take that option instead of selling in the APMC mandi.
The second Bill proposes to allow economic agents to stock food articles freely without the fear of being prosecuted for hoarding.
The third Bill provides a framework for farmers to enter into contract farming — that is signing a written contract with a company to produce what the company wants in return of a healthy remuneration.
The Bills are aimed to create a system where farmers and traders can sell and purchase products even from outside ‘mandis’. They also encourage intra-state trade and propose to reduce transportation cost. The Bills formulate a framework on agreements that enables farmers to engage with agri-business companies, exporters and retailers for services and sale of produce while giving the farmer access to modern technology.
They provide benefits for small and marginal farmers with less than five hectares of land. The Bills also provide for removal of items such as cereals and pulses from the list of essential commodities and attract FDI. The bills seek to open up the farm sector to more competition, modernise supply chains by enabling bigger agribusinesses to engage with farmers more directly and create seamless access to markets, which are currently fragmented.
Major parties that opposed the bills were the main opposition Congress, Bahujan Samaj Party, Siromani Akali Dal, Samajwadi Party, the Trinamool Congress, the Aam Aadmi Party, the Left parties, Nationalist Congress Party, the Indian Union Muslim League and the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam.
Why farmers are opposing the bill?
The old system might not favour a majority of farmers who could stand to gain by more choices the new legislations propose. On the other hand, the legislations are likely to impact influential ‘commission agents’ (known as ‘arhatiyas’ in Punjab and Haryana) in ‘mandis’ who don’t want their grip over farmers to weaken.
Slamming the government, Congress leader Gaurav Gogoi said: “This government has been eyeing, how they can take the farmers’ land to benefit their capitalist friends, whether is the Land Acquisition Act, whether in the industrial system through weakening the labour courts and now this three-pronged attack on the Indian agricultural system through the two bills on farming – one related to APMC, the other one is related to contract farming and the third bill which is on essential commodities… a three-pronged attack on the Indian farmers