Framers from the heart of green revolution states are on the roads facing the wrath of police lathis in midst of a pandemic. Numbered in thousands these distressed farmers are vociferously resisting against the three controversial ordinances brought by the current regime. They are: Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance 2020.
Even after strong resistance from not only Congress but its own party allies, including Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab and uproarious scenes in Rajya Sabha, the Modi government successfully passed the bill in both the houses of the parliament.
After miserably failing to save the public sector from its own dreadful economic policies and ending up selling public sector units to private corporates, like railways and airlines. Modi government has found another prey to feed to corporates, the farming sector, which supports nearly half of India’s population. It plans to do so by destroying the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) also commonly known as mandis.
The APMC was established to protect farmers from exploitation from zamindars. Under the garb of one nation, one market, served as “freedom” for farmers to sell their produce wherever they wish, the government is actually reviewing the same old zamindari system. The idea behind pushing these ordinances is to attract private investments in the agriculture market and to invite big corporates in the mandi business.
Government’s plan to introduce an unregulated market in the farming sector will quash minimum support prices (MSP), guaranteed by APMCs. MSP has worked as financial security for farmers. By killing MSP small and marginalised farmers will be left at the mercy of corporates.
Section 2(n) of the first ordinance defines a “trader” as “a person who buys farmers’ produce by way of inter-State trade or intra-State trade or a combination thereof, either for self or on behalf of one or more persons for the purpose of wholesale trade, retail, end-use, value addition, processing, manufacturing, export, consumption or for such other purpose”. Thus, it includes processor, exporter, wholesaler, miller, and retailer.
Destruction of APMC will not only affect farmer’s income but will also have consequences on state revenues too. This is also why the protests have mostly been concentrated in Punjab and Haryana who follow the arhatiya (licensed traders) system, and thus will be affected due to loss of revenue.
Every year, Punjab contributes 13 million tonnes of wheat and 12 million tonnes of rice to the central pool, while Haryana dispatches 3.9 million tonnes of rice and 9.3 million tonnes of wheat. In 2019-20, Punjab collected Rs 3,600 crore as revenue from the trade fees. This money (payed by traders not farmers) is then used by the state government to develop rural roads and linkages with state mandis. Currently Punjab earns around Rs3500 to 3,600 crores annually in the form of market fee and rural development fund, at the rate of 3% each. As per the data sourced from Punjab Mandi Board (PMB), in the Kharif and Rabi season 2019-20, the government earned Rs 3642 crore by charging market fee and RDF.
Section 6 of the ordinance postulates that “no market fee or levy under any State APMC Act or any other State law, shall be levied on any farmer or trader or electronic trading and transaction platform for trade and commerce in scheduled farmers’ produces in a trade area”.
Which naturally promotes even the APMC traders to go outside to purchase the produce in order to prevent paying an additional fee. This is indirectly abolishing the APMC system.
Section 2(m) of The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020 defines “trade area” as any area or location, place of production, collection and aggregation including (a) farm gates; (b) factory premises; (c) warehouses; (d) silos; (e) cold storages; or (f) any other structures or places, from where trade of farmers’ produce may be undertaken in the territory of India.
This definition in the bill clearly overrides the structure of APMC and alike including private marker yards, sub yards, farmer-consumer market yards managed by licences holding persons or ware house, cold storage etc. which come under the state APMC Act. Basically the entire existing madi establishment have been excluded from the definition of trade are under the bill.
At this stage when unemployment in the country is rising at a striking rate, by adding stress to an already crippled economy, government seems to be brazenly uninterested in securing jobs. The synergy of mandir-masjid politics and a presstitute media has enacted a shield around it where it can get away with anti-people, obnoxious policies. It’s important to note that among the worst consequences of abolishing mandis will be loss of livelihood for millions of labourers, workers, middle men, drivers etc working in this industry for decades now.
Section 8 does little to safeguard the interests of the farmers. It states that in case of a dispute arising out of a transaction between the farmer and a trader, the parties may seek a mutually acceptable solution through conciliation by filing an application to the Sub-Divisional Magistrate, who shall refer such dispute to a Conciliation Board to be appointed by him for facilitating the binding settlement of the dispute. This proposed system of conciliation that does not allow farmers to approach a civil court, can be easily misused against the farmers especially the small and the marginalised ones.
On the other hand the government is in its same old denial mode, using its classic defense line of: “people are being misled” just like in case of CAA, migrant workers, lynchings etc. In its argument in defense of the ordinance, government said that there is no plan for abolishing MSP. Which is not true because the ordinance nowhere mentions about protecting MSPs. Also the ordinance doesn’t bind the trader to purchase the produce at MSP outside APMC.
The second important argument that is given to justify abolishing of mandis is that, such centers have turned into cartel-like structures, run by nefarious mafia and brokers occupying the markets. Now there is definitely truth to this claim, but instead of reforming the system through political will, government deciding to sell the sector is no brainer. This is exactly what it has been doing to other public sector units as well. The argument that public sectors are nothing but useless and hamper innovation, doesn’t justify feeding them to chronic corporates instead ordaining structural reforms in the system.
What is more shocking is that even at the peak of a financial and health crisis where the government must be in the forefront of public services, it is mischievously working on ratifying policies that compounds the distress of common people. This is enough proof to hold a mirror in front of those who are blinded by their dogma and are unable to see anything wrong with the current regime. The issue of farmers has jolted the conscious of people not only in opposition but as well as those in the power, although the congress itself, in its 2019 manifesto had promised to scrap APMC.