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More Rhetoric, Less Thinking: Will The Farm Bills Really Empower India’s Farmers?

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“Life on a farm is a school of patience. You can’t hurry the crops or make an ox in two days.”        – Haneri Alain Liogier

Talking about farming takes our minds straight to a picture of green fields with farmers working on them with great enthusiasm and zeal. But today’s agricultural policies and the three recently passed farm bills have failed considerably to recognise the basic essentialities of what a farmer and farming truly requires.

Delving deeper into these Acts namely, The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Service Act, 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, we find so many loopholes which need to be taken up before society—so that one can fight for one’s rights by talking “sensibly and legally”.

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The major concern is related to the very nature of these Acts being similar to the ‘Zamindari system’. Our whole nation fought against this in the 18th century to get out of the shackles of the barbarous British policies and distressing intermediaries. The simple question is, why are we bringing back such policies on our land again? Furthermore, while going through the provisions of these Acts bit by bit, we find that there is more injury than recovery for the poor helpless farmers.

Starting from ‘The Statement of Objects and Reasons’ part, which highlights COVID-19 pandemic and its negative effect on farmers, we can see the dubious role of policymakers. Even the following data published on PIB’s official website justifies the reasons given for the passing of these Acts, which are contradictory in themselves:

“Procurement of wheat from farmers by Government agencies has touched an all-time record figure on 16.06.2020, when total procurement for the Central pool reached 382 Lakh Metric Tonnes (LMT) surpassing the earlier record of 381.48 LMT achieved during 2012-13.  This has been accomplished during the trying times of Covid-19 pandemic when the whole country was under lockdown.”   – PIB Delhi (as on 17.06.2020)

Also, the provisions talk about finding traders and other corporate bodies for the sale and purchase of crops. Theoretically, this highlights the freedom of choice, transparent or efficient way of trade. But the real problem comes to its application in the practical world of fields and farmers. The farming sector in Punjab majorly belongs to people or farmers who are illiterate and have small landholdings. Sudden enforcement of such policies and laws on these people makes the situation even more depressing and cumbersome.

The only thing they have to earn their livelihoods are their beloved farms. One cannot expect immediate acceptance of the new “so-called digitisation process”, as it is neither realistically possible nor does it make any sense. Putting an overnight burden on farmers to find best suited traders for their crops is not giving them ‘freedom’, rather, it is pushing them into the hands of the private sector biggies due to lack of awareness.

Moreover, the provisions related to dispute settlement are time-consuming as well as an added headache with the inclusion of intermediaries. Legally, we can see that the total time mentioned to get our dispute solved starting from the filing of the complaint until the final appeal is approximately 60-90 days. In short, we can say that to receive the genuine price for one’s crops, and hard work and sweat, a farmer will have to wait, fight and waste time here and there amid this whole unwieldy dispute settlement procedure.

Problems do not end here. In a small family setup with only one bread-earning male member, which is a major case in Punjab, we have to think, who will fight the case and who will be there on the fields to grow crops for the next season in the meantime? As compared to the Mandi System, where farmers sell their crops in a hustle-free manner with set prices, this new system has ‘no stability’.

On a deeper appraisal of these recently passed three Farm Acts, one can find that “re-visiting the provisions by the lawmakers is a serious need of the hour”—so that this zamindari-system-like situation can be avoided, and the farmers’ fight for their rights can be seen more pragmatically. An eminent writer and politician Shashi Tharoor, in his book “An era of darkness: The British Empire in India”, has rightly highlighted the oppressive intermediary British system by saying that,

“I do not look to history to absolve my country of the need to do things right today. Rather I seek to understand the wrongs of yesterday, both to grasp what has brought us to our present reality and to understand the past for itself. The past is not necessarily a guide to the future, but it does partly help explain the present. One cannot, as I have written elsewhere, take revenge upon history; history is its own revenge.”

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