Here's All You Need To Know About Massive Ongoing Farmers' Protests
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India’s national capital has caught the attention of the entire country and even some parts of the world again this winter! However, unlike any other year, Delhi is not at the centre for its infamous toxic air pollution or harsh winters, but for unprecedented farmer protests.
And in what it seems, the protests are here to last as the talks held between the 35 representatives of various farmer organizations and the central government were declared inconclusive after the latter proposed to form a committee to discuss the law. While the second round of talks between the top Union ministers and the farmers will take place tomorrow, here’s a look at what led to these protests.
To begin with, India has been a heartland for farmer protests from the inception of the time. Every year some or the other farmer grouping stages protests. That being said, these farmers’ protests is unprecedented. In the last five days from the time the farmers particularly from Punjab and Haryana have taken to the streets and are heading the national capital, the protests have faced several impediments from the police. Water cannons were used in the cold to disperse the crowd, some were lathi-charged, detained and even subjected to tear gas. In an unforeseen instance, a national highway was even dug in the middle to prevent the farmers from entering Delhi. However, scores of farmers braved the brutality and made their way to the national capital. Now these farmers are gaining support from different states such as Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Even farmers from far away states such as Maharashtra have also announced to hold protests tomorrow in solidarity with the protesting farmers.
Though the protests now are covered fervently by the media across the world, farmers have staged demonstrations against these farm bills from the time it was tabled in the Lok Sabha.
At the centre of these mass movements are the three contentious farm bills, now termed as Kala Kanoon (black law) by farmers cleared by both the houses in Parliament. Despite receiving flak from the opposition parties, the bills were passed smoothly without the ruling party breaking a twig as it enjoyed a majority in both the houses.
So what are these three laws?
The three bills passed by the central government are the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill.
The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act proposes to remove commodities such as pulses, oilseeds, onion, potatoes and edible oils from the essential lists, thus allowing hoarding. Stock-holding limitations that were earlier imposed on these commodities will only be in place under extraordinary circumstances such as war, famine and other natural calamities.
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement or Price Assurance Act will help to build a national framework on farming agreements that protects and empowers farmers to engage with agri-business firms, processors, wholesalers, exporters or large retailers for farm services thus allowing contract cultivation. The bill will allow farmers to enter into a written contract for the product supply at an agreed price for better remuneration.
Third, the Farmers’s Produce Trade and Commerce Act allows farmers to sell their product wherever they like. This means that they don’t have to sell it to a designated APMC mandis. Anyone can buy their produce even at their farm gates. The act also provides a transparent and barrier free inner and inter state trade.
The two laws—The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill and The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement or Price Assurance Bill—seems to not have created much ruckus.
However, much of the farmers' unrest is fomented because of the Farmers’s Produce Trade and Commerce law. According to the protesting farmers, the third bill is a precursor for the removal of MSP (minimum retail price) that the farmers most importantly from the state of Punjab and Haryana enjoy. To further understand, one has to know that the government procures staples such as wheat, paddy, rice, cotton, sugarcane and other essentials at MSP which is often higher than the price of other crops to ensure that the farmers get money and the country has essential food stocks. However, farmers fear that this law is to weaken the APMC mandis as farmers can go and sell their products anywhere they want, thus giving an exit to the government to pay the MSPs to farmers. Farmers worry that the government's exit will cause teetering in the price and eventually pave the way for big corporations to enter the space.
The central government procures the highest from the state of Punjab and Haryana at the MSP. However, it must not be overlooked that according to a Shanta Kumar-headed committee report quoting NSSO survey mentioned that only 6 per cent of the farmers benefit from MSP.
With all that said, the government has tried to allay the fears of farmers by mentioning that the MSP will continue to exist along with these three laws, the farmers demand for complete roll back of the farm bills.
Though the government has shown no intentions of scrapping the laws, all eyes will be glued on them as they will make their second attempt to negotiate with the farmers’ bodies.