Dr Asangba Tzüdir
Amid ironically comical chaotic scenes and uproar, the Rajya Sabha passed two of a set of 3 ‘controversial bills’ related to India’s Agricultural sector. The farm bills are – Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill; Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Services; and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill. The bills are aimed at transforming the Agri-sector in order to provide fair price to crops, increase income and thereby raise the living standard of farmers. The bills replaced the ordinances issued this year on 5th June in the midst of protests by farmer’s groups especially in the states of Haryana and Punjab which are the grain bowls.
The Union Minister of Agriculture Shri. Narendra Singh Tomar beginning with the Minimum Support Price (MSP) which is very crucial component, has states that the price will be decided in the same manner as was done earlier and added that these bills are meant to protect the interests of the farmers. He also clarified that a new system of payment within 3 days of selling has been established. Further, farmers land ownership will also be secured besides, the burden of tax is going to be reduced on farm produce which he says will create more profits for the farmers.
The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill seeks to provide freedom for farmers to sell their produce through a mechanism where farmers as well as businessmen can easily trade their products through and other means and out of Mandis also. It also allows for barrier free Intra- and Inter-state trade. And through reduced transport costs and taxes, it seeks to provide increased price to farmers on their produce. It also adopts a more convenient system of trading for farmers by selling via E-Trading system.
It has raised concerns over Minimum Support price; commodities sold out of Mandis, and also Government E-Trading sites as E-Nam. On these aspects, it is said that the Minimum Support Price (MSP) shall be decided in the same manner as was done earlier. On the issue of selling out of Mandis, the government’s response is that Mandis will not be abolished but options are provided to farmers to sell in other places other than at Mandis. The same goes for E-Nam which will not be abolished. However, transport costs and taxes being dependent on certain price of commodities in the International markets, it cannot easily be said about the cut leading to increased price on farmers produce.
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Services Bill is highly optimistic in the sense that this bill seeks to adopt a system of pricing even before the crops are sown. Payments are to be made accordingly and in case of a price rise, the surplus will go to the MSP, and thus save them from the element of market uncertainty. However, in such kind of a contract the farmers do not hold leverage over pricing, which is further compounded by the fact that corporate have more bargaining power. Further, the reality is such that with nearly 85 percent of the poor farmers holding less than two hectares of land, the price negotiation becomes difficult.
Along with the yearly routine disasters, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown up various challenges, more so the impact it had on the economy and especially on the livelihood of farmers. With the urgent need for revival and growth of economy and for the farmers’ welfare and better livelihood, the Government felt it an urgent need for immediate legislation of the bills. However, beyond the contents of the bill which is written in black and white, it is the farmers who have experiential knowledge of the Indian Agricultural scenario and its associated politico-economic implications and thereby knows whether their sufferings and their claim for rights fits the bills.
(Dr Asangba Tzudir contributes a weekly guest editorial to the Morung Express. Comments can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org)