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HomeBetween The LinesFarmer Protests: Myth versus Reality

Farmer Protests: Myth versus Reality

Myth 1: The farmers are just being deluded by the political opposition, actually the farm bills are good for them.

Reality: The farm bills have been met with severe criticism ever since they were introduced as ordinances and right through the duplicitous method through which they were passed in the parliament. The bills were opposed by the BJP’s own allies for not providing enough protection to farmers. Facing a failure of passage, the bills were rushed through the houses of parliament by violating established procedures. Deliberations were blocked in the upper house, cameras and microphones were turned off, and the bills were passed without even taking a proper vote on the matter. The bills were never even sent to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture for deliberation either. The actions of the government themselves betray that the bills do not meet the interest of the farmers but have insidious motivations behind them.

If that were not enough, a quick reading of the bills show that protections for farmers have been severely curtailed. For example, in the event of a dispute with the trader, farmers can only achieve resolution through a Conciliation Board appointed by the Sub-Divisional Magistrate. It says the settlement by the Conciliation Board will be binding on the parties. This in effect bars the jurisdiction of the civil court from entertaining any suit or proceedings in respect of any matter that could be dealt through the special mechanism provided in the law. Therefore, it is essentially the replacing of the jurisdiction of civil courts with a heavily bureaucratic procedure under the authority of a government employee. It takes little suggestion for the reader to extrapolate the extent of corruption and injustice that is expected under this system. Further, current disputes could also be settled by APMC Officers in the yard, which would no longer work for contracts outside the APMC system, effectively denying recourse to small farmers.

Further, the bills do not exclude the possibility of farmers losing their land if they are unable to fulfill the contract payment, as under Section 14 (7) “amount payable … may be recovered as arrears of land revenue.” Section 15 expressly prohibits recovery by taking “the land of the farmer,” but this is not binding. The credit schemes will follow laws governing the debt instruments as the recovery rules are only “linked to” this Act. 

This is one of the many issues currently being debated by the farmers. Find more here. Also read Myth 4, 6 and 7.

Myth 2: The protests are a Khalistani conspiracy.

Reality: Let us begin by acknowledging that, just like any large-scale protests, there are always participants who are there to promote their own agenda. Having said that, there is no evidence to support the assertion that the movement is led by separatists or supports separatism or an armed struggle. This has been refuted both by the BJP’s own members and by the actions of the protestors who have been largely peaceful.

The assertion was first raised on November 30 when the BJP general secretary and the party’s in-charge in Punjab, Dushyant Kumar Gautam, said, “Slogans of ‘Khalistan Zindabad’, ‘Pakistan Zindabad’ were being raised. Slogans were being raised in favour of anti-national forces. You should think about who is behind these protests.”

Shortly after, two senior BJP leaders from Punjab, who also served as ministers in the previous Shiromani Akali Dal–BJP government, Manoranjan Kalia and Surjit Kumar Jiyani, vehemently rejected this line.

Kalia said, “It is absolutely wrong to term farmers Khalistanis. I am going to take this matter up with the Central leadership. Farmers’ protest is totally non-political, though Congress, SAD, and AAP have been trying to gain ground in this struggle.”

Further, the leaders of this movement are 30 farmers’ organizations (with the umbrella organization tracing its roots to Madhya Pradesh), and none of these organizations or any of their top members have said anything in support of separatism during the course of this movement. 

Finally, while the movement has found leadership in Punjab, it has won widespread support from, and participation by, farmers across the nation. Also read Myth 3.

Myth 3: Only farmers from Punjab are protesting / the farm bills only affect farmers from Punjab.

Reality: According to a Hindustan Times report on Nov 28, the protesting farmers are not just from Punjab but Haryana and even MP, UP, and Uttarakhand. More states have subsequently joined in.

This is only to be expected given the Agrarian Crisis that India is reeling under. There have been around 3 lakh farmer suicides in the last 25 years, i.e., 32 farmer suicides every day. The current bills are expected to only aggravate the situation. It is in that light that farmers across the country have joined in the protests with workers extending their solidarity.

Myth 4: These reforms will remove the middle men in agriculture who consumed all the profits.

Reality: We do not disagree that the food supply chain is plagued by midde men who have been devastating for small farmers. However, the current bills, rather than solving the problems, further entrench them. Such reforms have already been attempted in Bihar; and, far from removing middle men, they have created a flourishing network of cronies who farmers are forced to sell to at throwaway prices. With the new ordinances, the exploitative middle men, who at the end of the day were small, local players, will be replaced by the clout of monopoly capital. Who do you think can drive a harder bargain? The local middle man or the big corporation? Even mere deregulation in the APMC system has led to the crushing of small farmers in states without MSP as seen in the documentary here.

Rather, these bills have provisions for middlemen as “aggregators” (The Act says, “an aggregator or farm service provider may become a party to the farming agreement” and is defined as “any person, including a Farmer Producer Organisation, who acts as an intermediary between a farmer or a group of farmers and a Sponsor and provides aggregation related services to both farmers and Sponsor.”). 

Myth 5: Agriculture has long needed reforms; even if these reforms are not perfect, they are a step in the right direction.

Reality: As discussed in Myth 1 and 4, these bills, far from being positive reforms, deprive the farmers of their ability to bargain, resolve disputes or even retain their land in the long haul. The farmers fear the creation of a bonded peasantry at the mercy of and subject to exploitation by corporations.

Myth 6: The Modi government has taken a very bold and unprecedented step and has powered through legislative deadlock on farmer’s bills.

Reality: The haste with which the bills were passed, and the secrecy involved—including cutting off the broadcast of the vote on Rajya Sabha TV—indicate that far from showing any legislative courage, the way the farm bills were passed were both cowardly and insidious in the way they undermined our democracy. While reforms in agriculture are needed, the kind of reforms needed are consultative, and those respectful of the federal structure of India. Like the GST, these reforms have been forced down the throats of the states and have deeply damaged rules of parliamentary procedure designed to protect democracy, which by definition acts as a check on the unlimited power of a dictator. Even if the reforms had actually been good reforms, the way they were passed would be far from praiseworthy.

Myth 7: The new laws do not even mention MSP, why are the farmers saying it is being abolished?

Reality: Agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar has said that doing away with MSP was never the intention of the new laws. 

Technically, this is true. 

The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce Promotion and Facilitation Act, the most controversial of the new laws, does not explicitly state MSP. However, the farmer leaders say, the laws are intended to make regulated APMC Mandis, which currently guarantee MSP to farmers obsolete, even if they do not state so.

Currently, a tax is levied on the procurement of agricultural goods at a rate of 8.5 percent in Punjab and at 6.5 percent in Haryana. According to the new laws, if a farmer sells their produce outside a mandi to any corporate in any part of India, this tax need not be paid. This is an incentive for corporations to always buy foodgrains outside a mandi. With such a competitive disadvantage, there is little chance the mandis will survive. 

Moreover, if most procurement happens outside, mandis will not get a regular income. Part of the tax paid by the farmer goes into maintaining the mandi. It is used to pay salaries of its employees and maintain interior roads connecting villages to the mandi. So, what will happen when this tax income dries up?

It is to be noted here that farmers benefit only from regulated Mandis like in Punjab. Deregulated Mandis (those that do not guarantee MSP) can be damaging to small farmers too. This can be most readily seen in Punjab and Kerala which buy large amounts of produce at MSP and where the farmers have the highest agricultural incomes in the country consequently.

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