On September 27, 2020, President Ram Nath Kovind gave his approval to the three new farm laws that were earlier passed by the Indian Parliament. These Farm Acts are as follows:
1) Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, which provides provisions that regulate pricing, production, time period and settlement of disputes in farming agreements between a farmer and a buyer prior to the production or rearing of any farm produce.
2) Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, which allows the farmers to trade in outside trade areas such as farm gates, factory premises, cold storages, and so on. Previously, it was only permitted in the APMC yards or Mandis. The State Governments are now restricted from charging any market fee on traders, farmers, and electronic trading platforms for trading farmers’ produce in an ‘outside trade area’.
3) The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act was first enacted in 1995. With the amendment in the Act, the Government of India will list certain commodities as essential to regulate their supply and prices only in cases of famine, war, natural calamities, or extraordinary price rises. The commodities that have been deregulated are food items, including cereals, pulses, potato, onion, edible oilseeds, and oils.
The introduction of these laws was met with heavy backlash from farmers, especially in the states of Punjab and Haryana, as well as criticism from prominent political leaders, such as Former Chief Minister of Punjab, Prakash Singh Badal, who returned his Padma Vibhushan to protest “the betrayal of farmers by the Government of India”.
Protests by farmers were quick to follow. The demonstration on November 26, against the farm and labour laws, saw approximately 25 crore workers participate in the protests, media reports suggest.
So what exactly are the farmers’ objections to the new farm laws?
Farmer unions in Punjab and Haryana say the recent laws enacted by the Centre will eventually dismantle the minimum support price (MSP) system, which is an agricultural product price set by the government to purchase directly from the farmer. This rate safeguards the farmer to a minimum profit for the harvest. Over time big corporate houses will dictate terms and farmers will end up getting less for their crop, they fear.
Farmers argue that with the virtual disbanding of the mandi system, they will not get an assured price for their crops and the “arthiyas” – commission agents who also help by pitching in with loans for them -will be out of business. The farmers are also upset with the removal of guaranteed MSP, which they say will leave them at the mercy of big corporations.
Their main demand is the withdrawal of the three laws. They can also settle for legal assurance that the MSP system will continue, through an amendment to the laws. They are also pressing for the withdrawal of the proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill, fearing it will lead to an end to subsidised electricity. Farmers also say rules against stubble burning should not apply to them.
In response, the government proposed to make necessary amendments on at least seven issues, including one about the weakening of the mandi system. The government also said it is ready to provide all necessary clarifications on their concerns about the new farm laws, but it did not mention anything about the main demand for the repeal of the laws.
The farmer unions were said to be discussing the proposals, but there was no immediate reaction from them, except that they continue to stick to their main demand for the withdrawal of the laws. The two sides are set to resume talks on Saturday, 12th December. While officials have said they will not give in and repeal the laws, they could compromise on one of the farmers’ demands: enshrining minimum prices for some crops into law.
In conclusion, the scrimmage between the government and the farmers is not likely to die out soon. Farmers are the backbone of our country, and thus it is the responsibility of the government to implement policies best suited to their interests. As tensions are on the rise, farmers are beginning to lose trust in Indian institutions. The government needs to take substantial measures to ease tensions and allay the farmers’ fears.