As many as 40 farmer unions on Thursday called off their over-a-year-long agitation on the Delhi borders against the three contentious (now-repealed) farm laws after the Centre gave them a written assurance to address their pending demands. While the cases registered against farmer leaders during the stir would be withdrawn, the government also agreed to set up a committee comprising farmers’ representatives and government officials to find ways of ‘ensuring’ minimum support prices (MSPs) for all farm produce.
Though the government announces MSPs for a clutch of crops, including pulses and oilseeds for both kharif and rabi seasons, procurement at these prices are largely limited to rice, wheat and cotton. Also, the MSP benefits are availed mostly by farmers in a few states, notably Punjab.
Farmers have demanded that MSPs be made the producers’ legal right to buttress the mechanism. Another demand was for withdrawal of sections of the Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020 that allegedly threaten to undermine the supply of subsidised electricity for farming.
Parliament on November 29 passed The Farm Laws Repeal Bill, 2021, to annul the three laws governing agriculture marketing. This came after a televised address by Prime Minister Modi to the nation on November 19, saying the laws – first brought out as Ordinances on June 5, 2020, and enacted by Parliament in September 2020 — would be repealed, as the government could not convince a section of farmers of the utility of the laws for them, in terms of augmenting their incomes. In his address, Modi also announced the formation of a committee to promote zero budget-based agriculture, a term for farming based on natural fertilisers and local seeds, to change crop patterns as per the changing needs of the country and “to make MSP more effective and transparent”.
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella body of the agitating farm unions, on Thursday announced suspension of the stir, and said farmers would go back home on December 11 from the protest sites. They, however, added that they would meet again on January 15 to see if the government fulfilled its assurance. “If they don’t (meet the demands), we can take a call on resuming the protest,” SKM member Gurnam Singh Chaduni said.
Given the prolonged farmer agitation on Delhi borders, the Supreme Court had, on January 12, 2021, stayed the three laws and set up a four-member panel to talk to stakeholders chronicle their views and suggest amicable solutions. In the subsequent round of talks with farmers, the Centre proposed to suspend the laws for one-and-a-half years and set up a joint committee to discuss the legislation to end the stalemate, but the farmers stuck to their demand that the laws be completely withdrawn and insisted that their ‘ghar wapsi’ from the borders of the national capital was contingent on the abrogation of the laws.
Experts have been staunch supporters of the farm laws as they believe the changes would have freed the farmers from the clutches of notified APMC market yards, given them the freedom to sell their produce anywhere in the country and enabled them to earn more.
Among the three laws, 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 without any levy. This was supposed to ensure remunerative prices to farmers by facilitating competitive alternative trading channels. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, proposes to give farmers the right to get into a contract with firms to sell their produce upon harvest at a pre-agreed price. This law was aimed at transferring the risk of market volatility from farmers to companies and giving the peasants access to modern tech and better-quality inputs.
Through the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, the Centre wanted to remove items like cereals, pulses, oilseeds, onion and potatoes from the list of essential commodities and scrap the imposition of stock-holding limits on such items barring under “extraordinary circumstances”. This was aimed at drawing large-scale private investments and FDI into the farm sector.
(with PTI inputs)