“New Farm Bills will benefit the Capitalists”:Interview with Farmer Activist Lingraj Pradhan


Three Farm Bills related to farming have now rocked the nation and triggered anger among the large section of famers in the country, though the Union government claimed that those bills are historical steps to double the income of the farmers.

The three bills are Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 besides the essential commodities (Amendment) bill 2020. While the first two bills were passed in the Rajya Sabha on Sunday, the third one was passed earlier in the week. But the Bills have evoked protest from the Opposition and farmers’ groups. 

The central government termed this bill as a watershed moment for India’s agriculture sector but the opposition parties have termed them “anti-farmer” and even termed the bill as “death warrant”. They also accused the Union government of flouting the Parliamentary procedure by passing the bills hurriedly and not paying heed to their demand of sending the bills to a Parliamentary committee for further deliberations. On the other hand, members of various farmers organizations are protesting against contentious farm Bills in different states across the country.  

Odisha is widely known as an agrarian state. But, there is not much hue and cry over the Bill among all the farmers of the state on this Bill.

We spoke to Lingaraj Pradhan, farmer activist, about this bill.

Why are farmers opposing the bill and why are many people calling it an anti-farmer bill?

The reform bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha on a day when the farmers had come out on the street protesting the bill and the Opposition parties had walked out from the Upper House. As per the Government, the purpose of the 3 Ordinances, which were passed by the Parliament, will empower the farmers and through this, the farmers will get benefits. These bills only look good in theory, but the reality is completely different. The Bill will only benefit capitalists.

Under the Essential Commodities Act of 1995, hoarding was limited to regulate market price and stop black marketing. But according to the new Essential Commodities Act, it would be legal for the private buyers to hoard essential commodities for future sales, which only government-authorized agents could do earlier. However, in the new Essential Commodities Act, there is no specification on the quantity of hoarding for private buyers, there is every possibility that the consumer will face the brunt of price rise of essential commodities.

The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, provides a framework for farmers to engage in contract farming, i.e. farming as per an agreement with the buyer before sowing, under which farmer sells produce to the buyer at a predetermined price.

In contract farming, investments in the farm will come from the agri-business company, where a private company will enter into agreement with the farmers. This will have to follow the specification of the investor regarding the production. Here, a farmer may enter into a written agreement to supply or produce at a future date at a mutually agreed price. The contract can range from 1 to 5 years. The agreement must include the price or a price band. 

Contract farming is not new to the country but has seen limited success. Small and marginal farmers do not like this type of farming system. This has been proved by experiments conducted in Rajasthan, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh. These rules were implemented by the Central Government and the State Government in 2004 and 2005 respectively. Since the farmers did not follow it, the government made it an Act. We have many examples of farmers suffering due to Contract farming.

Last year, PepsiCo sued Gujarat farmers for illegally growing and selling a potato variety, which was not prescribed by PepsiCo. PepsiCo withdrew the cases after the state government intervened.

Contract farming is also a middle path for the capitalist to disobey Urban Land (Ceiling and Regulation) Act, 1976, which defines the size of land that an individual/family can own. Through contact farming capitalists can acquire more than their ceiling limits.

The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 permits intra-state and inter-state trade of farmers’ produce beyond the physical premises of APMC (Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee) markets and other markets notified under the state APMC Acts. There are apprehensions among the farmers that the reform will debar them from getting the Minimum Support Price (MSP). 

In effect, the existing mandis established under APMC Acts have been excluded from the definition of trade area under the new legislation. The government says the creation of an additional trade area outside of mandis will provide farmers the freedom of choice to do trade of their produce. But the reality is that this provision will confine APMC mandis to their physical boundaries and give a free hand to big corporate buyers. 

In the state run APMC government regulates prices and makes sure the farmers will get a fair price. The produce is brought by a licensed middle man in the APMC market, which means the farmers who come to the market find the real price of their produce adjusted according to the demand in the market. The middle men who want to buy the produce in bulk negotiate with the farmers according to the set price. Now if nobody else buys the produce this is where the government will buy it instead at a MSP (Minimum Support Price) and MSP buy ensures that the farmers get something for the efforts they have put in. It is not profitable but it helps them sustain and pursue farming for living.  

MSP is like a safe guard for the farmers which guarantees that once they go to the market they will come back with some money. After this entire APMC process, the middle men sell the produce further to either local vendors or food processing industries. 

Here, the central government has assured the farmers that the MSP and APMC (Agricultural Produce & Livestock Market Committee) will continue, these will never be removed at any cost.

However, it is unclear how this will play out in reality. First, farmers will be attracted towards these private players, who will offer a better price for the produce. The government mandis will pack up meanwhile and after a few years, these players will start exploiting the farmers.

This will eventually lead to the end of wholesale markets and assured prices, leaving them with no back-up option. If they are not satisfied with the price offered by a private buyer, they cannot return to the mandi or use it as a bargaining chip during negotiations.

 Is there any good thing in this bill that will benefit the farmers?

 It can be beneficial for a particular crop or mono farming. This will work at a micro level of farming but it will not work in the macro level. From all these three bills it is very clear that promoting capitalism is the priority of the government and not the interest of farmers. The government is withdrawing its duty from the farmers with this Act. Government policy and intervention is very much needed in these bills for Farmers benefits.

 Why are Odisha farmers not raising their voice against this bill?

 The bill came in the month of June but the media remained silent. There is no way to create awareness among farmers. Many organizations are unable to discuss this among farmers due to Covid situation.

The main reason for not protesting against the bill is that the mandi starts in our state from 1 November, but in Punjab and Haryana, it was started from 25 August, hence the movement took place there. Now our farmers only know that some changes have been brought in the mandi system. Protests in Odisha will start gradually. The farmers of Bargarh and Sambalpur will start the protest first because a good mandi system prevails here.

Will the Odisha government also react against this bill?

Out of these three bills, two bills have already been implemented by the Odisha government. The Contract Farming Act was enacted in 2004, while the Essential Commodities Act has been enacted during the Covid epidemic. Only false debates are going on in the televisions. Recently, Biju Janata Dal (BJD) MP Amar Patnaik requested the government to send both the bills to a Select Committee for examination of the legislation. These are only political dramas.

The BJD has always supported the NDA government at the Centre. Ever since Narendra Modi came to power at the Centre in 2014, Naveen and his party have been supportive to the Prime Minister and his policies. From demonetisation to GST, Citizenship Amendment Act, revoking Article 370, Triple Talaq and RTI amendment. Therefore, we cannot expect the government will stand with the farmers.

Written By: Subhra Kar

Image Source: InterviewTimes

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