A concerted attempt is being made to build a misleading narrative on the three argriculture laws adopted by the Parliament in September last year. Undue fears are being artificially injected so that the vulnerable section of farmers does not get to see the light in the right perspective.
An agonisingly prolonged stalemate has been prevailing even after the Union Minister for Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Narendra Singh Tomar has offered to discuss the three acts clause by clause to dispel the misconceptions and doubts and has repeatedly reassured farmers that MSP would not be done away with in any circumstance, an agonisingly prolonged stalemate has been prevailing.
It is common knowledge that the Indian agriculture has come a long way from food scarcity to food surplus but the interests of farmers have not been adequately addressed. Almost 80% of the small farmers in our country have holdings of only one or two acres. They have been engaged in farming since independence for their survival but have lately been reeling under heavy debts and have been resorting to suicide in large numbers.
The Centre therefore realised that pro-farmer reforms were essential to uplift the sector that has been the backbone of the national economy. So, the government started making efforts to create an eco-system of farmer-friendly policies to ensure that the sector goes from strength to strength and farmers’ income is doubled.
The three laws have been a step forward in that direction, before they took shape there have been long brain-storming sessions for over five years in which the chief ministers were involved and a consensus for reforms was evolved through seminars and webinars across the country so that farmers are empowered to make agriculture profitable for themselves.
Contrary to the popular perception the three laws, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) act, the Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) act, have not the least tampered with the existing system of MSP and the provision of APMCs (Agriculture Produce Market Committees). It is just that the farmers have been given some more choices. No law is binding on the farmers.
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act,2020, seeks to give farmers the right to enter into a contract with agribusiness firms, processors, wholesalers, exporters, etc for the sale of future farming produce at a pre-agreed price and provides a framework for farmers to enter into contract farming – that is signing a written contract with a company to produce what the company wants in return for a healthy remuneration. Conversely, it seeks to transfer the risk of market unpredictability from farmers to sponsors. The law provides complete protection to a farmer after he enters into a contract because agreement will be only for crop, not for land. There is no provision of land being sold, or leased or mortgaged to the party with which the farmer enters into contract. It is preposterous and baseless to argue that corporate houses would grab farmers’ land because the law provides adequate protection to farmers. Moreover, a farmer can withdraw from a contract at any stage without any penalty if he finds it unviable. In fact, a penalty would be imposed on the contractual party if it does not make the due payment to the farmer on time.
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, seeks to give freedom to farmers to sell their produce outside the notified APMC market yards (mandis). It is aimed at facilitating remunerative prices through competitive alternative trading channels. It is an effort to rid him of the exploitative system of mandis and middle men (Arhatiyas) which never allowed him to get the adequately remunerative price for their produce. Again, it is a wrong notion that is being circulated that the APMCs would be wound up. In fact, the idea is not to shut down APMCs but to expand a farmer’s choices. So, if a farmer believes a better deal is possible with some other private buyer, he can take that option instead of selling in the APMC mandi.
The act, in fact, is expected to go a long way in improving the plight of farmers because the role of mandis and middlemen has been stifling for quite some time, binding the farmers in a vicious circle. Being at the mercy of middlemen farmers could hardly envision a life beyond them. It will help them get out of the clutches of middlemen and allow them the freedom to think afresh for marketing their produce.
The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act,2020, seeks to remove commodities like cereals, pulses, oilseeds, onion, and potatoes from the list of essential commodities and will do away with the imposition of stock holding limits on such items except under extraordinary circumstances like war, famine or any natural calamity. It proposes to allow economic agents to stock food articles freely without the fear of being prosecuted for hoarding.
The envisioned idea with all three Acts is to liberalise the farm markets in the hope that doing so will make the system more efficient and allow for better price realisations for all concerned, especially the farmers. The central concern, presumably, is to make Indian farming a more remunerative enterprise than it is right now. The three laws in fact formulate a framework on agreements that allow farmers to engage directly with agri-business companies, exporters and retailers for services and sale of produce. All this will be achieved by giving the hardworking farmers of India access to modern technology.
Some sections have raised the fear that this will compromise food security and in due course, the Food Corporation of India will be dispensed with which is again a far too misplaced perception. The farm laws are meant to remove trade barriers and allow digital trading of farm produce and at no stage do they imply that it would be done at the cost of food security of the nation.
A close look at the new agriculture laws would reassure that it is a step towards farmers’ empowerment.
(The writer is a senior journalist)