Laws that Evict Farmers from Indian Agriculture
Farmers are facing a severe viability crisis
The importance of agriculture can be gauged from Jawaharlal Nehru’s statement that "everything can wait, but not agriculture." In most cases, farmers are unaware of institutional practices, are vulnerable, resource-poor, lack in-house professionals and are relying on local intermediaries.
This concept has neither a historical nor practical basis. It is a fact that real prices of agricultural produce have been decreased over time (Chand 2019, Newton 2020). Farmers are facing a severe viability crisis. The resulting indebtedness of petty producers often degenerates into an acute condition of debt-trap which has led to more than 300,000 suicides of farmers in the last two decades in India (Rupakula 2016).
The APMC Act brought radical changes and significant improvement in almost all aspects of marketing of farm produce (Acharya 2004), where a good number of irregularities have arisen in the time being that need reforms (Singh and Bhogal 2016).
In the absence of APMC, the farmers in Bihar resorted to distress sale whereas farmers in Punjab, with the APMC intact, were able to sell at MSP price. The whole country saw that amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it was agriculture and the farmers who ensured food security and strength. Just imagine, if India’s agriculture was destroyed, who could save the country between the pandemic and the 2008 recession?
The Union Budget (2018-19) has ensured “minimum 50% profits over the cost of production (C2+50%) (a recommendation of the M S Swaminathan-headed National Commission on Farmers) and at the same time 22,000 haats for small and marginal farmers for direct selling.
These haats will be exempted from APMC Act while Section 26(2) (viii) of the APMC Act ensures MSP to the farmers. Progress of the rural haats is still under question.
According to John Newton, Chief Economist of the American Agriculture Farm Bureau, since the 1960s there has been a steady decline in crop prices in the US. 85% of farmers in America are indebted, suicides are increasing, and farmers are leaving agriculture because in America and other developed countries, agriculture is controlled and regulated by the market.
Amid a crisis–COVID19, three ordinances were brought against the interests of agrarian structure and the general public. The structure of the ordinance was such that it can be called "of the corporate, for the corporate, and by the corporate".
Section 2 of The Farmers Empowerment and Protection Ordinance defines that "person" denotes "company" and "agricultural product" denotes "processed food". This idea was already uprooted on the consultation of Contract Farming Act since 2014-15 when Professor T Haque, chairman, Land Policy Cell, NITI Aayog visited Patna to discuss it.
Haque at the A N Sinha Institute Social Studies, Patna discussed the Model of Contract Farming Act during his visit. The institute put its concern during discussion. It is now clear that the present government wants to hand over the agricultural land to the corporate through contract farming with other public entities.
It is worth noting that migration is more in Bihar as the APMC Act has not been implemented in the state since 2006 along with other initiatives, which ensure MSP to farmers.
This has led to a distress sale. In Bihar, middlemen buy wheat, rice, maize, pulses, and oilseeds at low prices and sell it in Punjab at a high price. In Nalanda district of the state of Bihar, in 2020, farmers resorted to distress sale of maize at Rs.900-1100 per quintal (qtl.) while MSP was Rs.1850/qtl., which led to a loss of around Rs.750 to Rs.950/ qtl to the respective farmers.
Meanwhile, the MSP of moong was Rs.7196/ qtl. while the farmers of Bihar had distress sale at Rs. 6500/ qtl. Similarly, the MSP of paddy was Rs. 1815/ qtl. last year, while the farmers had to sell Rs. 1600/ qtl. The farmers of Bihar got only 1800/ qtl. of wheat whereas MSP was Rs. 1975/ qtl. After all, who is responsible for these?
Existing practices of PACS (Primary Agriculture Credit Society) is not in favour of farmers. Farmers of Bihar hardly know that the government of India announces annual Minimum Support Price (MSP) for 23 agricultural produce —7 cereals (paddy, wheat, maize, bajra, jowar, ragi and barley), 5 pulses (chana, arhar/tur, urad, moong and masoor), 7 oilseeds (rapeseed-mustard, groundnut, soyabean, sunflower, sesamum, safflower and niger seed) and 4 commercial crops (cotton, sugarcane, copra and raw jute) — based on the CACP’s recommendations.
If the farmers of Bihar receive MSP, then such farmers and labourers may not migrate to Punjab and Haryana. Farmers of Bihar would have been more prosperous than at present, if MSP was ensured.
The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance 2020 says that it will increase competitiveness in agriculture and enhance the income of farmers while protecting the interests of farmers. And at the same time, it also says that any person who owns a PAN Card can hoard as much grain as he wants.
It is a contradictory clause, that the middlemen/traders can hoard the food grains and the income of the farmers will increase. On the contrary, at the time of crop cutting, the traders will pour the grains in the market to deflate the prices and buy the grains from the farmers at cheap prices. And after that the same will be sold at higher prices.
Food inflation will be increased and completely controlled by the corporate in India. Section 3 of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 has explicit provisions to control the hoarding of agricultural produce in favour of farmers and consumers.
The second ordinance promotes contract/corporate farming, that a farmer may enter into a written farming agreement for five years or more in respect of any farming produce and such agreement may ensure supply of such produce, including the time of supply, quality, grade, standards, price, and other matters if described.
A good number of articles have already suggested that in most cases farmers lose and face huge problems in given terms and conditions. Section 6 (3)(a) says that two-third of prices will be paid at the time of delivery and the remaining amount after due certification like quality, grade, and standards.
Question arises, who will provide the certificate? What will happen in the case of government machinery and PPP model? It may be apprehended that farmers will be the ones to lose.
To resolve the disputes between farmers and corporate/traders, there will be a Conciliation Board. In case of failure to settle the disputes, any party may approach the concerned Sub-Divisional Magistrate (Section 13 and 14). Appellate Authority will be the District Magistrate; who will have the power of the Civil Court.
No Civil Court will have jurisdiction to entertain any suit or proceeding in respect of any disputes under this agreement (Section 19). The ordinance also indicates that no provision of the Essential Commodities Act 1955 will have any implications regarding the agreement. Are farmers in a position to fight with corporate/traders/new zamindars? The nation saw what happened in the case of land reform disputes between the zamindar and raiyat. In sum, ordinances will give a ‘free hit ball’ to corporations.
According to NSSO Report 571, 85.41% of the farmers in the country in 2013 are small farmers (less than 2 hectares) who own 53.28% of the agricultural land. The number of small farmers in Bihar is 92.89% who own 76.34% of agricultural land, while in Punjab small farmers are 82.79% who own only 32.82% agricultural land.
This means that most of the agricultural land (77.18%) in Punjab is owned by 18.11% of large farmers (owning more than 5 ha), that is, two-thirds of the agricultural land. If large farmers of Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan are agitated and afraid of these ordinances, then what about the small farmers?
Dr. Vidyarthi Vikas is an Assistant Professor at the A.N Sinha Institute of Social Science, Patna.
Vjay Paul is an Assistant Professor at Graphic Era Deemed to be University, Dehradun.