Protests had erupted in Punjab against these measures, with farmers claiming that the legislation will ‘corporatise’ the agriculture sector and further cripple them financially.
- Last Updated: September 18, 2020, 9:42 AM IST
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Amid walkout by opposition parties and the resignation of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal as the Union minister, the Lok Sabha on Thursday passed two key bills pertaining to the agriculture sector during the Monsoon Session of Parliament. The legislations, Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, were passed by voice vote in the Lok Sabha. Earlier on Tuesday, the House passed the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 which seeks to deregulate food items, including cereals, pulses and onion, a move aimed at transforming the farm sector and raising farmers’ income.
Large-scale protests had erupted in Punjab against these measures, with farmers claiming that the legislations will ‘corporatise’ the agriculture sector and further cripple them financially. Badal in Parliament said the proposed laws will “destroy” the 50 years of hard work done by successive Punjab governments to build the farm sector. However, the government maintains that these ordinances will help farmers get better prices for their crops, by legalising contract farming, for instance.
WHAT ARE THE BILLS?
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Bill 2020 aims to promote barrier-free inter-state and intra-state trade in agriculture produce. Whereas, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill 2020 seeks to empower farmers to engage with processors, aggregators, wholesalers, large retailers and exporters through advanced agreements on pre-agreed prices.
WHY ARE FARMERS PROTESTING?
Ahead of the Monsoon Session, VM Singh, the national convenor of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) had given a nationwide call to farmers in states across the country to voice their disapproval of the ordinances on September 14. “The government claims that farmers are happy because of these ordinances, we fear that till now whatever little we used to get by way of Minimum Support Price, we won’t get even that if agri sector is corporatised,” said VM Singh.
He said that the model of contract farming, for instance, that the government is trying to push has already been tried and tested in the sugarcane sector. “A large number of sugarcane farmers have tried this model of business and look at their state right now. They are owed thousands of crores and nobody’s intervening to give them their due,” Singh added.
WHAT DO EXPERTS HAVE TO SAY?
Several agricultural experts had criticised the fine print of the ordinances. Siraj Hussain, senior visiting fellow at ICRIER and former Union Agriculture Secretary, cites the case of PepsiCo suing farmers in Gujarat as an example of how vulnerable farmers getting into contract with large corporates become. “There are apprehensions on the part of farmers to enter into contracts as they are not organised and are ill-equipped for any legal battle with corporates…On the intervention of the state government, PepsiCo withdrew the cases but the incidence left a question mark over the future of contract farming in which resource-poor farmers were pitted against a powerful multinational.”
Narasimha Reddy Donthi, an independent public policy reviewer, in an article in June this year said, “Despite the government’s claims, not one of these ordinances benefit farmers in any way. However, as the text in the ordinances note, they will help traders, especially big corporations. Together, these ordinances are targeted at usurping state powers, and overriding state laws and market committee.
‘Important Moment for Farmers’: PM Modi
Prime Minister Narendra called the passing of two bills as an “important moment for farmers” and termed protests as “misleading” farmers. “The passing of the historic agriculture reform bills in Lok Sabha is important moment for the farmers and agricultural sector of the country. The bills will liberate the farmers from middlemen and other obstacles,” Modi said in a tweet in Hindi. In June, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar had written to all chief ministers, seeking cooperation in implementation of the reforms and stressed on the need for their continued support in the development and growth of the agriculture sector in the new reformed environment.