Indian Farmers’ Crisis: Bharat Bandh Tomorrow!

It is extremely ironical that the only Indian sector largely unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic should get embroiled in a seemingly endless crisis. The Farmers’ agitation, some people detest calling it that, has entered the 12th day with the farmers still camping in the Delhi-Haryana border, braving the unusually cold winter this time and blocking most of the highways leading to the capital. Three rounds of talks with the Government of India have failed to yield solutions that the farmers wanted, and the fourth round of talks has been scheduled on December 9. With the Union Agriculture minister still adhering to the government line of argument that the reforms as promised by the Farm Laws would be beneficial for the farmers in the long run, the distressed and tired farmers want a repeal of the laws, and demand an answer of ‘yes or no’ to that. Therefore, despite the government’s promise of presenting a set of concrete proposals on the 9th the farmers are going ahead with their plan of observing a Bharat Bandh in protest tomorrow, the 8th of December 2020.


Nobody would deny the fact that reforms are urgently needed in the agricultural sector with the Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMC) becoming obsolete and a growing burden for both the farmers and the government, and the continuing exploitation of the farmers by the APMC-centric middlemen and of course, the money lenders nobody is talking about whom, but it has been a fact of life that the stranglehold of the moneylenders drives scores of small and marginal farmers to suicides every year.


Except for the states of Punjab and Haryana the APMCs do not play a significant role in many other states where the state governments had either dismantled these or allowed the farmers the option to sell to the private traders too. So, it is not surprising that only 6% of Indian farmers actually sell through the APMCs or that only 25% of the total farming transactions are done in APMCs. Further, the system of Minimum Support Price (MSP) is applicable to only 23 commodities, and this system is largely responsible for overproduction in food grains leading to tremendous wastage in the warehouses, and also it cannot stop the mechanism of distress selling by farmers during hard times. Most of the states had already delinked the sale of vegetables and fruits from the APMC mandis long back.


So yes. Reforms are indeed needed. The earlier governments also wanted to either change or abolish the APMCs. But the almost covert, majority-based and rushed way the government of India pushed the Farm Laws and passed these in Parliament could hardly be justified, and in fact, this high-handedness had led to the creation of fears, uncertainty and unrest in the farmers across the country. In terms of policies and reforms the Indian agricultural sector, still the bane of the economy, has a legacy since the pre-independence period, and therefore, to have an ideal system of farming with easy and profitable market access to the cultivators free of the sucking middlemen and the traps of the money lenders, a chain of storage facilities, appropriate mechanism to encourage commercial crops and so on, one needs a long process of deliberations, brainstorming, constitution of panel of experts, submission of reports etc. taking all political parties and all stakeholders on board.


So, it seems that the rushing through of the laws at this pandemic times was just a means to help out the corporates to generate more funds/business for them in the still-prospering agriculture sector which in turn can help the government garner more revenues. And, instead of a well-thought-out process of deliberations directly bringing in the corporates to deal in agricultural produce is bound to create apprehension and doubts, genuine or unfounded.


It has become a catch-22 situation as the impatient farmers cannot possibly agree for nothing less than the scrapping of the laws and the government too cannot possibly agree to a repeal since the laws were pushed through so urgently. However, we can only hope that good practical sense would prevail over the rulers to consider at least a stay on the implementation so that a proper mechanism sets in to carry out the much-needed reforms.  They should also desist from making allegations of vested interests or even terrorists joining the farmers’ bandwagon to give a bad name to the agitation, as has been their wont in recent years.

The farmers who are the
annadatas (food providers) for all of us should not be allowed to suffer like this, and if they are made desperate only our country and economy would suffer even more. It is extremely critical to have all the farmers on board, rich or small or marginal, with meaningful laws suited to their issues, problems and concerns. All experts/intellectuals/politicians should shed their ideological bias and prejudice, and help the government resolve the crisis in overwhelming favour of our farmers.


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