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Farmers Rights vs Farm Laws

  • 23 December, 2020

  • 12 Min Read

Farmers Rights vs Farm Laws

Context: Agriculture and Farmers Rights is an important part of GS Paper II and GS Paper III of UPSC Mains Examination 2021.

  • The Supreme Court suggested to form a joint panel to look into the demands of the agitating farmers recently. But this offer was rejected by the farmer groups as a tactic act.
  • Farmers’ representatives see a moral victory in the Supreme Court’s observations, in that the top court did not outright reject their demands or the right to protest.
  • Agriculture producers demanded a total repeal of the new farmer bills that provide for setting up private markets outside of designated mandis, allow contract farming without government regulation and also lift stockholding limits for farm produce.
  • Although the Court did not go into the merits of the demands, its intervention paved the way for farmers to challenge the constitutional validity of the central government enacting laws on agriculture, which is a State subject.

What are the farmer’s demands?

  1. The starting point of farmers’ demands in relation to the new farm laws was for mandatory payment of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for notified farm produce in private markets to be set up.
  2. Amendment to the Essential Commodities Act that provides for lifting of stock­holding limits on essential commodities. Under the new Act, any trader, company or agri­business, etc. will be able to store unlimited quantities of say, wheat, rice, sugar, onion and potato, for any period of time. Hoarding is normally related to speculation for profit that hits farmers and consumers alike.
  • The mechanisation and corporatisation of agriculture, that is at the centre of the reforms­oriented laws, is the threat to the survival of 56.7% of the total workforce and 86.08% of small and marginal operational landholding farmers (as per the Tenth Agriculture Census, 2015­16) engaged in farming activity in the country.
  • Without adequately skilling, training and empowering the small and marginal farmers to become competitive on their land holding of less than two hectares, the government brought the new laws through the ordinance route, and that too when the country has been preoccupied and grappling with the COVID­19 pandemic.

Chronology of the Agriculture Reforms

  • Reforms in the agriculture sector have been an on and off process with successive governments since the economic liberalisation in 1991 and more so, under the subsequent World Trade Organization (WTO) norms.
  • And, even though the WTO seems to be collapsing under its own weight from an unequal set of rules that favour developed countries, India and the other developing countries fought for a ‘peace clause’ to pursue country specific food security policies in keeping with their socio­economic responsibility. Domestically, however, parties in opposition, in their time, raise objections to reforms in the farm and retail sectors.
  • Having set a target of doubling farmers’ income by 2022, the Modi government seems to be in a hurry. Yet, it is important in the value chain to start from the backward linkage, i.e., the farmer, the last man as Gandhi would say. Will that last man benefit from these reforms? Or should there be efforts to lower input costs to make farming remunerative for producers?
  • Instead, farmers are now faced with new amendments to the Electricity Act which propose to fully privatise distribution of power, a crucial input in farm irrigation.
  • At present, payment of MSP for notified commodities even inside designated mandisis not mandatory. As a result, a majority of farmers are short changed. Without the backing of the law, there is no guarantee against this in the new markets that are being conceived — and what is agitating farmers.
  • Fragmented landholdings have become a problem for big ticket farming seeking economies of scale in a competitive market. The government is banking on its reforms­oriented formation of producer companies as a panacea for all ills in the small and marginal farm sector.
  • It has fixed an ambitious target of setting up 10,000 Farmer­Producer Organisations (FPOs) by 2023­24 which must be registered as a company or a cooperative to run farming as a business. Dovetailed into this plan is the requirement for an FPO to hire the services of an experienced resource institution as promoter.
  • The promoter can belong to private companies or a non­governmental organisation arm of mega companies or agri businesses which claim know­how on availing government grants, tax rebates and can leverage official schemes.
  • Thus, an agri business can have its foot in the door even before a FPO is registered. Government guidelines facilitate this.
  • Even though the idea was floated almost two decades ago when company law was amended to enable this, only 881 FPOs have been registered so far.
  • Significantly, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, an affiliate of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, has backed guaranteed payment of MSP to farmers so that growers are not exploited by big procurement companies.

Way Forward: Need for Consensus

  • For now, it will be appropriate for the government to put on hold the implementation of contentious pieces of legislation and initiate widespread, transparent and participative consultations with all stakeholders including gram panchayats to arrive at informed decisions by consensus.
  • Whatever be the criticism of the National Advisory Council set up during the previous United Progressive Alliance regime, it played a significant role in making propeople the rights­based National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the National Food Security Act.
  • Such acknowledgement of farmers’ rights is the need of the hour.

Source: TH

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