DNA Exclusive: Passage of farm bills in Lok Sabha exposes politics of opposition parties

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New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi made one of the biggest promises after coming to power that the BJP-led NDA government would double farmers’ income by 2022. Since the goal appeared impossible, the Modi government strived to change some old laws related to farming. For this, it was required that farmers should be able to sell their produce anywhere in the country to get maximum profit. 

The Modi government made effort to implement the concept of ‘One Nation, One Market’, and with the passage of farm sector reform bills in the Lok Sabha it has covered a long distance. On Thursday, the lower house passed the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, which seek to promote barrier-free inter-state and intra-state trade in agricultural produce, amid protests by the ruling NDA constituent Shiromani Akali Dal and the opposition. 

Another bill related to the farm sector, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, has already been passed in the Lok Sabha on Tuesday. The Prime Minister on Friday asserted that they have brought “freedom” to farmers and given them a “protection shield” and accused the opposition of standing with middlemen and “misleading” peasants by “lying” to them. 

Speaking at the virtual launch of several rail projects in Bihar, PM Modi chose to speak at length on these bills, and said, “This misinformation is now being spread that the government will not give MSP benefits to farmers. Manufactured claims are being made the government will no longer purchase wheat, rice, and other grains. This is a blatant lie aimed at deceiving farmers.” 

Notably, Opposition has opposed the Modi government saying that this will ruin the farmers and private companies will take over agriculture. The BJP alliance partners like Akali Dal, which has been the ruling party’s most trusted ally in the NDA, is also opposed to these bills, and Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigned from the Union Cabinet on Thursday on this issue.

You will be surprised to know that a farmer from Saharanpur in Uttar Pradesh cannot sell his crop in Yamunanagar in his neighboring state of Haryana. He has to sell his crop to the Mandi Samiti of his own district. These mandis have a network of middlemen that entraps farmers, and the latter is compelled to sell his crop at a very low price. 

These middlemen control these farmers and often give them loans, thereby, entrapping farmers into a vicious circle of debt that culminates into suicide of many farmers as they fail to repay their debt. The Modi government has abolished this system and has come out with the three farm sector bills that are being politically debated.

1. The first bill is about the agricultural market, under which farmers get an exemption to sell their product wherever they want.

2. The second bill is about contract farming. It allows farmers to contract with agri-business companies to sell their crops to them.

3. The third bill is the Essential Commodities Act, under which items like cereals, pulses, onions, and potatoes are being excluded from the list of the essential items. 

These three bills have been passed in the Lok Sabha, but they have to be introduced in Rajya Sabha. After these bills get the Upper House nod, they will take the shape of the law. Almost all the opposition, including the Congress and the Akali Dal, are opposing these bills. 

The resignation of SAD leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal from the Modi government has elated the Congress party that wants to take advantage of the situation and is trying to put pressure on the ruling dispensation.

The Congress is opposing the One Nation, One Market system, forgetting its erstwhile manifestos of 2019 and 2014 when it had promised similar legislation. In the 2019 election manifesto, Congress promised that after coming to power it will abolish the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Act so that farmers can sell the crop anywhere they want. It also wrote that the Essential Commodities Act of 1955 is now outdated and promised to bring introduce a new law.

Just before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the then Congress government led by Dr. Manmohan Singh announced the exclusion of fruits and vegetables from the APMC Act so that farmers can sell their produce wherever they want. Congress implemented this in the states where it was ruling. 

The Manmohan Singh government had also formed a committee on Contract Farming which gave its recommendations in 2013, and it was considered that farmers were not able to sell their crops anywhere, as they were caught in the web of middlemen. The same Congress party has taken a U-turn of these issues.  

As the Shiromani Akali Dal had bitten the dust in the 2017 Punjab Assembly elections, it is trying to come back to power in the next assembly election of 2022. There are around 60,000 Adhatias in Punjab and all of them are considered to be close to the Badal family. Perhaps this is the reason that the Badal family is concerned to save its vote bank. 

The farmers are confused about these bills as they are not aware of the facts. In many places, they feel that if this law comes into force then the system of minimum support price (MSP) will end and they will also lose their rights over lands.

The DNA report will tell you 10 big things about Indian farmers: 

1. According to the 2011 census data, about 52 percent of people in India are connected with agriculture. 

2. Even after toiling 365 days, the contribution of 52 percent of farmers in the country’s GDP is merely 17 to 18 percent, according to the Indian Economic Survey 2018.

3. According to NSSO Report 2016, the average earning of farmers per month is only Rs 6400, thus their average annual earning is merely Rs 77,000.

4. Average debt burden on 52 percent of Indian farmers is Rs 104000. Their debt is more than their average annual income, according to NABARD All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey 2016-17.

5. In 2019 only, over 10,000 farmers committed suicide, and the main reason was the burden of their debt, according to the National Crime Records Bureau 2019.

6. Because of middlemen, farmers get only 10 to 23 percent of the market value of their produce, according to the International Journal of Science and Research.

7. India is an agricultural country, but its global share in the export of agricultural products is just two and a half percent, according to WTO’s Trade Statistics 2014.

8. According to ASER survey, 72 percent of India’s rural youth are engaged in agriculture, but only 1 percent of them want to become a farmer. The country’s youth do not want to become a farmer.

9. According to CSDS Report 2018, around 76 percent of farmers want to do something else than agriculture as they find it hardly viable.

10. According to PRS, 38 percent of current Lok Sabha MPs are farmers. Still, farmers in this country are suffering when one in every three MPs is a farmer.

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