WhatsApp University is filled with comments on the historic, unprecedented farmer’s agitation. The mainstream media also had to report at least some aspects of the Agitation. But there are questions in the social media which need to be answered properly and in simple terms
The questions are:
1. When even scientists have welcomed the bill are the farmers not mislead by the politicians for their own benefits?
2. Will the bill not help the farmers to sell their products anywhere in the country and get better price?
3. Will not the contract farming help farmers assured price?
4. Will not the removal of essential commodities list help farmers fetch better price?
5. How electricity subsidy will go when the states can continue the subsidy?
6. We are not farmers. We are middle class workers and officers. Why should our Union/ Association support the farmer’s agitation?
7. Are they not funded by foreign agencies who support terrorism?
8. The FM herself says there was wide consultation. Why oppose now?
9. The agitation is not nationwide. Is it not confined to Punjab & Haryana?
10. When the government is willing to make amendments to the Act, why not accept it?
Let me answer one by one
1. Not mislead
They understand there are few scientists and economists who belong to the category of market capitalists who support the bill. For them market is supreme. The reality is, market is in the hands of a few. In our country few oligarchs like Mukesh Ambani and Adani control the market. They fund the ruling party and ask them to amend laws to suit them. Dirubhai Ambani had once quoted that he never violates law but gets it amended to suit him. He also said everyone has a price; I am willing to pay the price.
The farmers are not fools or illiterates. Many of them leading the agitation are also ex-service men. They have analysed the farm acts and Electricity Act. They understand the market better. They know that the APMCs have flaws but when the APMCs are closed and the 6000 odd purchase centres disappear, there won’t be minimum support price. They will be at the mercy of corporates and big traders who will always want produces at cheap rate.
The MSP prescribed by Dr. M.S. Swaminathan Committee recommending the minimum price as input cost of farming + Labour Cost of the farmer’s labour and his family should be treated as 100 and Price fixed 50 more. That is the Minimum Support Price at which government will procure. When this is assured the farmer may get a better price from traders also. If this is implemented, farmer will not become rich. He will be able to survive the vagaries of monsoon, crop failures, insect attacks, storage difficulty, transportation problem etc.
They are not funded by any one or any political party. They are fighting because they know the truth.
2. Can’t sell all over:
86% of our farmers are small and marginal farmers. They cannot afford to sell the products anywhere. They don’t have ware houses. They will be at the mercy of industrial houses like Adani’s Adani Logistics which had been already given handling of Food Corporation of India. The big traders will purchase on credit when the farmer has to sell immediately and often, they don’t pay in time. The legendary economist of Punjab Dr. Malcolm Darling once said, “The farmer is born on debt, lives on debt and dies with debt”. This is still true. That’s why we have so many farmers’ suicides.
The tenant farmers are the worst hit. They don’t get bank loan, they have to sell immediately as they can’t store and they often have to clear debts of money lenders or Non-Banking Financial Companies.
So, saying that they can sell anywhere is a myth. The middle men are always better off than the farmers. They decide the price, without Agriculture Produce Marketing Corporations, farmers will be thrown to the wolves. Farmers understand this better. That is why they are fighting to withdraw the bills.
3. Contract farming is to help corporates:
Contract farming forces the farmers to cultivate what the corporate contractor wants. They will always want exotic varieties and produces which attract better prices in the country and abroad. The input cost will increase. The farmer will have to borrow more. In case of dispute like not honouring the contract, the farmer has to go to the Tahsildar, then to the District Collector. We know how the bureaucracy works. The corruption at various levels. Is it easy for a farmer to meet the District Collector cum District Magistrate to air his grievances?
The act also prevents the farmer from going to Court. Off late even the courts are not delivering justice in time. But this remedy is taken away.
Contract farming will be a death knell to the small and marginal farmers. The farmers understand this. That is why they are fighting.
4. Essential Commodities act is needed:
Once you remove pulses, potatoes, onions etc from the essential commodities list, the corporate will buy at cheap rates, hoard them and create scarcity and sell at higher price. The government will allow import. The farmers will not be able to compete with import. They will have to sell in distress. The farmers understand this. That is why they are fighting.
5. States powers usurped:
Not only electricity, agriculture is also in the state list. The central government is taking away the rights of states. The states will not be able to provide subsidy as their income has gone down after GST and they are borrowing heavily.
All over the world the farmers get various subsidies but in our country one by one they are reduced and then stopped. The farmers are witnessing what is happening. They understand. That is why they are fighting.
6. Without farmers we will starve:
We are dependent on farmers. We will not be able to survive without food. When we agitate for our rights or to protect the public sector and public services we require the support of the common man. That is the farmers. Hence for our own selfish interest also we have to support them. Moreover as citizens of the country we have a duty to the country. When wrong policies are announced we have to oppose. Stand Up. I recall the lines of Pastor Niemoller during the Hitler’s days.
“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out – because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out- because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews- I did not speak out because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.
Joining protests does not mean you support a political party. Apolitical does not mean that you should not react to what is happening around. We are humans and humans act, react and fight for not only self but also for the other humans.
7. Farmers help themselves:
The farmers are helped by other farmers, families and fellow citizens. If they are funded from abroad, why is the government not able to stop? Why they can’t publish the names of the funders?
The farmers have their sons in the defense and police services. They are the most patriotic people who care for others. Linking them to terrorists and branding them anti national is really anti national.
8. No Consultation:
The Finance Minister has to say who were consulted. Definitely not the farmer’s organisations. Is it Ambani’s, Adanis, Agarwals who were consulted? That could be true because the farm acts favour them.
9. Struggle all over:
The farmers most affected are from Punjab and Haryana where the APMCs work better. They are also the ones who produce more wheat and rice and supply to Food Corporation of India. But farmers across the country are agitating. For them it’s not easy to reach Delhi. But all over the country there is agitation. Mainstream media does not cover. Kerala had demo at 10000 centers on a day at the same time. Maharashtra has huge rallies, Tamil Nadu Road roko, Bengal massive protest and so in every state. Whoever protests the government should address their issues. Otherwise what for we have government?
10. Bill void abinitio:
The bill is totally void. That is why it has to be withdrawn. With wider consultation with stake holders, you can bring a new act. In 1990 itself a committee had recommended but the government has not bothered to implement.
The same question was asked to me during the FRDI Bill by the Joint Parliament Committee. Why don’t you suggest amendments? My reply was “ The bill is void abinitio. The intention itself is not good. You can’t do cosmetic changes and make it attractive. It has to be withdrawn in toto”
The bill was withdrawn from the Parliament. Through an ordinance this 4 Acts can be nullified.
Farmers also have other problems like lack of bank credit, no rights to tenant farmers, no processing units nearby etc.
In a democracy, people have voted with a hope that there welfare will be taken care. Government is by the People, for the People, of the People.
It cannot become by the Corporates, for the Corporates and of the Corporates.
That’s why People First and other organisations have given boycott call to boycott Reliance Fresh and Adani Logistics.
It is time, we all stand with farmers
Thomas Franco is former General Secretary of All India Bank Officers’ Confederation.