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Farmers’ protest against the Farm Acts - Desperate times call for desperate measures


Intern, Legal Angles Patna

Amidst the prevalent wail caused by outbreak of pandemic and the seismic collapse of the economy, three ordinances were introduced by the government of India in the month of June which was put forth to revamp the existing framework of agricultural market. Tracing back the history of farming laws, it can be evidently observed that post independence, farmers used to sell the produce directly to the targeted consumers but gradually zamindaari system coaxed them into a vicious cycle of debt. To help farmers, APMC (Agriculture Produce Market Committee) Act was introduced in 1960s which set up Mandis or Markets across India where farmer’s produce is sold through auctioning or price discovery. APMC markets are regulated by state governments and a tax is charged on each transaction so that the government remains aware of the price of the market.

President Ram NathKovindon the eve of 27th September, 2020 gave his assent to the three 'Agriculture Bills' that were earlier passed by the Indian Parliament. The newly promulgated acts aimed to make the lives of farmer easier but on the contrary has caused massive agitation amongst farmers hailing from different states of the country. The three newly introduced acts are :

l Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020

The objective behind the act is to make national framework for contract farming, it advocates the inclusion of a farming agreement between a farmer and a buyer before the production or rearing of the farm produces which wil include the prices along with the deciding process or any additional and guaranteed speculations. It also made it compulsory to specify a minimum or maximum period for the concerned agreement. A three-level conflict resolution methodology is suggested by the act which are - Conciliation Board, Sub-Divisional Magistrate and Appellate Authority.

l Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020

The act makes provisions for intra and inter-state trade of farmers’ produce out beyond the premises of Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) markets and other markets notified under the state APMC Acts. It could be anelectronic trading or outside trade area such as farm gates, factory premises, cold storages, and so on. Previously, it could only be done in the APMC yards or Mandis. Also, it restrains state government from levying any tax on these transactions.

l Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020

Thisact was enacted in 1955 to ensure the delivery of certain commodities or products, the supply of which if obstructed owing to hoarding or black-marketing would affect the normal life of the people which includes foodstuff, drugs, fuel (petroleum products) etc.With the 2020 amendment in the Act, the Government of India will list certain commodities as essential to regulate their supply and prices only in cases of war, famine, extraordinary price rises, or natural calamities. The commodities that have been deregulated are food items, including cereals, pulses, potato, onion, edible oilseeds, and oils. The imposition of any stock limit on agricultural produce will be based on price rise and can only be imposed if there's a 100% increase in the retail price of horticultural produce and 50% increase in the retail price of non-perishable agricultural food items.

Reasons for massive agitation against the Act:

Farmers across the nations are agitated by the introduction of these new laws, they showed their disagreement and disapproval but when remained unheard and unnoticed by the union government they were left with no resort but to protest. The protests have now escalated to a stage where thousands of farmers ,especially from Punjab because this region is predominantly an agrarian state with most organized form of APMC, are threatening to block all road routes to the national capital as these acts look good on paper but sound absolutely dreadful when said aloud.

The acts which are introduced to supposedly help farmers are implemented in the entire country without being discussed with states and the experts is the biggest irony which gives an obvious reason to allege the government of destroying cooperative federalism.

APMCs are under state government and are maintained by taxes collected in APMC market’s transaction. The new act refrains state government to levy taxes in the transactions of private market as this would save taxes, all companies and traders will buy farm produce from private markets which will slowly result in the end of APMC because the state government will have no funds to maintain APMC. If this happens states will have a lot of revenue loss and central government has not mentioned any way to compensate them, especially in Punjab and Haryana.

Contract farming act is being criticised as it privatizes farming, it does not talk about any minimum selling price and the farmers are not in a position to negotiate to corporate houses which will ultimately lead to their exploitation. Being big private companies, exporters, wholesalers, and processors, they will always have an upper hand in dispute resolution. Written contract is not compulsory which will make it even harder for the farmers to prove their contentions, if conflicted. Farmers have a valid point because they have seen privatization in markets of seeds and fertilizers where government believed prices will go down because of competition but results are opposite, and farmers fear the same in this case also.

The primary concern of the farmers is that with the end of APMCs, MSP will practically be gone and middlemen will become jobless. The notion of ‘One nation One market’ and ‘freedom of choice of market’ which the government aimed while framing these laws does not need an act to be imposed as the farmers can do that on their own and the only factor restricting them is lack of resources which these act do not intend to resolve at all.

Limits of hoarding have been removed because the situation of ‘Extraordinary price rise’ is way to high to reach which simply means big private players can any time cause artificial price fluctuation. Not only farmers will be affected by it, consumers will also be affected because the main goal or focus of a private company will be to raise its profits.

Voice arose from time to time to plug the existing loopholes in the system but instead of paying heed to the farmers’ request, the government introduced a new system which has a history of being a failure in many European countries. The government has turned a blind eye to the concerns of the farmers for whom the act was promulgated in the first place. The farmers are not only the soul of nation’s economy but for humankind too and it is very disheartening to witness that the one who provides us with the morsel are forced to come on the roads in spine chilling cold winter nights for their rights and to save the self thriving economy of agriculture. When the government remained stubborn and silent, the farmers are left with no option but to protest and this marks the emergence of desperate times call for desperate measures.

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