'Bure din': Farm laws are aimed to squeeze farmers' livelihood

Since 26th November, farmers from across the country are protesting against the new Farm Acts. On the same day, the largest general strike in history saw the participation of more than 25 crore workers in support of the farmers' protest. While the farmers raised the slogan 'Dilli Chalo' and marched towards Delhi

By Ganesh Katrapati  Published on  9 Dec 2020 3:32 AM GMT
Bure din: Farm laws are aimed to squeeze farmers livelihood

Hyderabad: Since 26th November, farmers from across the country are protesting against the new Farm Acts. On the same day, the largest general strike in history saw the participation of more than 25 crore workers in support of the farmers' protest. While the farmers raised the slogan 'Dilli Chalo' and marched towards Delhi, they were met with police barricades, water cannons, and tear gas. Undeterred, more than 3 lakh farmers have gathered at Delhi and continue the protest there. They demand the repeal of the three farm acts which they assert are anti-farmer and would lead to the corporate takeover of agriculture. More than 500 agricultural organizations and unions had called for a Bharat Bandh on December 8 which while being supported by people from different walks of life and many political parties has also, seen considerable International solidarity.

Before we delve into the details of the farm acts and the reasons for the farmers opposing them, let us remember that India is plagued by ever-rising suicides of farmers – Even in 2019, every day 28 farmers take their own lives [1] – A total of 2,96,483 which is equivalent to five times the deaths occurred due to Hiroshima. Why is this happening? The input costs (seeds, fertilizers, fuel, etc) have risen but the share of farmers' income has gone down considerably [2]. The fluctuations in crop yields and in the market have to be borne by the farmer who succumbs to debt.

India is an economy that is still very dependent upon agriculture. A conservative estimate puts more than 50% of the workforce employed by agriculture with nearly 86.2% of small and medium-scale farmers owning less than 2 hectares of land. The APMCs / Mandis (Agricultural produce market committee) were introduced to protect farmers from exploitation by large retailers and money lenders. The APMC along with the MSP (Minimum Support Price) helps the farmers get a fair price. The APMCs provide space for collective bargaining for the farmers and the MSP apart from being a safety-net to the farmers also plays a crucial role in the country's PDS (Public distribution system).

This brings us to the first farm act - "Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act" which professes to "expand" scope of trade areas other than the mandis. This act is said to "free" the farmers from the "clutches" of the mandi system. It is supposed to enable the farmers to sell their produce anywhere and everywhere. This is all but a pipe dream and a potent misdirection. The only ones with the ability and means to sell "anywhere and everywhere" are the corporate agricultural firms with huge investments, delivery, and storage systems. They will be able to bring the prices down precipitously and control the entire market. Farmers will have to sell their produce at the prices dictated by these big firms. This is why the farmers all over the country are demanding that MSP be codified into law for which all the prime minister can come up with is to "trust" him. If it is possible to bull-doze three new laws without any parliamentary discussion, why is it so hard to provide for MSP in the law?

Bihar is a living example of all that is wrong with the act. In 2006, Bihar abolished the APMC system. As a consequence, it saw increased price volatility and low growth in agriculture. Farmers were left to the mercy of traders and set on a race to the lowest price [3].

The second act (Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act) "creates a legal framework for contract farming". In contract farming, the farmer owns the land as a mere technicality. What to grow, when to grow, and how to grow are all set by the contract. This new law creates a path to making farmers into gig workers (like Ola, Uber, etc) and will rob the independent farmer of any power and control over his/her own produce. Because of the storage/stock and yield requirements, it only benefits large farmers and is harmful to small farmers. This is evident in the case of Pepsico contract farming in Punjab [7]. Owing to the sheer scale of capital investment, corporate farming can change the very landscape of farming in certain areas (in Pepsico's example, the forced cultivation of potatoes for chips). The so-called "legal framework" is nothing but a "legal framework" for exploitation that has been carried on verbally until now.

Let us take the case of Amazon which, while amounting to just 1.6% of Indian retail sales have systematically destroyed the Indian retail sector [4] with its predatory pricing. Uber, Ola is another example where the 'free' and 'open' market all but destroyed the public transport system not to mention leave scores of auto workers in a state of despair. Time and again, we have also seen the government favoring Reliance Jio over BSNL in a deliberate matter [5]. In the Covid-19 crisis, while our economy is in shambles, the wealth of Indian billionaires rose by over a third [6]. So, let us not be in any delusion over whom these acts will set 'free' – It is only the big corporations and monopolies that it will benefit.

The third act (Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020) deregulates key food items such as cereals, pulses, potato, onion, etc as essential commodities. That means there are now no limits on stocking these items. Let us look at how these three acts help the monopoly agricultural corporation and not the farmer – The corporate firm decides which commercial crop to grow, based on the most profit it stands to make So, tobacco instead of rice, sugarcane instead of wheat, potatoes for chips instead of pulses and food grains. It gets into a contract with the farmer (act 2) and also procures 'freely' from farmers from whom it can directly procure produce at throw-away prices (act 1). As these items can be stored practically forever, the firm then creates an artificial demand by hoarding the produce in its warehouse/cold-storage. The prime minister chides us that we are living in the past century by saying that these bills are for the '21st century' and we need the new bills to move forward. If that is true, they will only let the monopolies move forward by enabling further exploitation of farmers. These laws will open up our agricultural sector not only to the domestic corporations but also to the whims and fancies of the International market. They cater to the demands and complaints of the World Trade Organization and the World Bank that India is 'pampering' its farmers with subsidies and the MSP system. In this context, the farmers' demand for MSP to be codified into law is only justified.

The corporatization of agriculture entails that, the input subsidies which the farmers were dependent upon until now will no longer be given to the farmers but instead appropriated by the corporations. To fulfill the 'terms and conditions' on the contracts signed by the farmers, they will be given loans and micro-finance. They will become the new money lenders who are impervious to any concerns the farmers might have. They will hold the double whip of dictating the produce and dictating the financial stability of the farmer. This is very reminiscent of the way the British East India Company (EIC) forcibly made the farmers in India grow opium to shove it down the throats of Chinese people – They made them addicts and dependent on the EIC so that it could have the monopoly on tea. The 'enterprising capitalists' of the era – Tatas and Birlas were only too happy to ship this opium from India to China. They couldn't care less about the damage they were doing to the Indian peasant and the people of china – They were busy making a fortune. Neither can we forget the terrible Bengal famine – We Indians were forcibly made to grow Indigo and other commercial crops. It is particularly true that between Marie Antoinette saying 'let them eat cake' and Winston Churchill saying 'Let them starve', Churchill is certainly more evil and premeditated.

The success of the Bharat Bandh comes from a realization that these laws are attempts at squeezing the farmers' livelihood. Everyone who is participating in the bandh has seen the brutal oppression from water cannons and tear gas shells thrown at the farmers' protest which was peaceful. With the oppressive new labor laws, mass privatization of banks and government institutions, draconian arrests under the UAPA, terrible mishandling of the pandemic accompanying a severe economic crisis, They have seen and are living the 'bure din'. Peoples' solidarity and unity is the only thing that can take us forward.

References

[1] https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/agriculture/every-day-28-people-dependent-on-farmingdie-by-suicide-in-india-73194

[2] http://indianexpress.com/article/india/farm-income-growth-slumps-to-a-14-year-low-in-octdecember-2018-5608550/

[3] https://www.livemint.com/opinion/columns/lessons-from-bihar-s-abolition-of-its-apmc-systemfor-farmers-11600962615201.html

[4] https://thelivenagpur.com/2019/12/18/1-6-e-commerce-sales-has-destroyed-40-of-indias-retailtrade-cait/

[5] https://srpraveen.medium.com/why-bsnl-wasnt-allowed-to-do-a-jio-95b9a9d2eb30

[6] https://thewire.in/business/indian-billionaires-wealth-rose-during-covid

[7] https://www.newslaundry.com/2020/10/14/lessons-from-punjab-will-contract-farming-benefitor-harm-indian-farmers


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