Ever since the agriculture bills were passed by the Parliament in September 2020, they have been surrounded by controversy. Ministers have quit from their posts, farmers have taken the streets and several attempts have been made by the government to assuage the situation, but with no success.
Here, we try to understand what the 3 laws entail, why the farmers want them to be rolled back and where the protests stand now. Read on.
Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020
Under this Act, the farmer and the buyer can enter an agreement before the crops are produced. The minimum time set for this agreement is 1 crop cycle or production of livestock. The maximum is 5 years. It can be extended further but by the mutual agreement of both parties, that is stated clearly in the contract.
The amount the farmer will be getting for selling the products should also be explicitly mentioned in the agreement. If there are products for which price variation is predicted, there should be a provision for guaranteed price setting.
According to the Act, the cases of any dispute go through 3 stages - Conciliation Board, Sub-Divisional Magistrate and Appellate Authority
Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020
The Act allows the farmers to sell their produce within and outside, without having to be in the premises of Agricultural Produce Market Committee markets AKA mandis.
The farmers can also opt for another route of selling, one among them being online. Additionally, 'market fee', earlier levied on farmers for selling produce 'outside trade area' will be done away with.
Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020
According to this Act, the government of India oversees and can take decisions pertaining to the selling of essential commodities such as medicines, fuel etc and can decide what its MRP is going to be.
It can also add things to the list of essential items and remove them according to its discretion. Apart from this, the government can also control prices of these items by increasing their availability by putting a limit on stock-holding.
State government can or cannot use their powers, according to their discretion.
Now the amendment of this Act states that the government can only put things in the 'essential' category during 'extraordinary cases'. Which means, war, famine, natural calamities or unprecedented price hike.
The government has also removed eatables like pulses, potatoes, and cereals from the list.
Further, it has been stated that the stock-holding limit can only be imposed if there is a 100% rise in the retail prices of horticulture products and 50% in the case of non-perishable food items.
This increase will be calculated either by substracting the price of products from one year ago or by taking out the average of last 5 years. Whichever of these two is lower, will be applied.
What are the farmers exactly protesting?
Out of everything, the one factor which seems to stand out the most is the doing away of mandis and what the government calls 'middle-men'.
What looks like a great thing on paper is proving detrimental for farmers because, picture this: Someone produces a humble 100 kgs of potatoes and another 100 kgs of onions.
Now, if they don't have enough money or land to produce more products, how do you think they will be able to negotiate with big corporations?
Delhi: Latest #visuals from near Jantar Mantar on the second day of 2-day protest by farmers from all across the nation, who are asking for debt relief, better MSP for crops, among other demands pic.twitter.com/SIccqj6DIo— ANI (@ANI) November 30, 2018
This is where 'middlemen' proved to be beneficial. They could hold the ground on behalf of the farmers, who are now left at the mercy of the big players, and can only hope that they are not exploited.
Another point of contention is the lack, or absolute absence of consultation. The center passed the law without having talks with the farmers and the latter are questioning the same now.
Delhi: Farmers from all across the nation hold protest for the second day over their demands of debt relief, better MSP for crops, among others; latest #visuals from near Barakhamba Road. pic.twitter.com/Po5aGAhuSk— ANI (@ANI) November 30, 2018
Lastly, the MSP or Minimum Support Price is proving to be a problem. According to reports, 65 per cent of wheat in Punjab was produced at MSP last year. The laws don't have a strong rule when it comes to MSP, again giving power to the big companies.
Where do the protests stand now?
The farmers are firm that they want nothing less than the 'complete rollback' of the three bills and have had 5 meetings with the government about the same.
All 5 of them have proven to be futile and they are set for the 6th one on the coming Wednesday (December 9). The farmers, who have travelled mainly from Punjab and Haryana to Delhi under 'Delhi Chalo' movement that started on November 5, have now warned that they will occupy toll-nakas on December 8 as part of the protests.
Watch | #Farmer leaders confirm that the all-India #Bandh on December 8th will continue as planned, with farmers blocking all entrances to the #NationalCapital. The fourth round of talks will occur on December 9th #FarmersProtest2020 pic.twitter.com/80p7N3vExq— NDTV (@ndtv) December 5, 2020
It is to be noted that protests, though not so strong, had started much before (in June) the bills had been passed.