Sat. Jan 23rd, 2021

Farmers’ Agitation Continues in Delhi

@Rakesh Agarwal

Farmers primarily from Punjab & Haryana are sitting on dharma from the last week of November at Delhi and Ghaziabad borders. They are protesting against recently passed three agricultural Acts by central government. The Acts under dispute are, The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020. The farmers are demanding repeal of these Acts while government is proposing certain changes in the Acts. India is an agrarian society and 70% of its population still depend on it. Today this sector alone accounts for 18% of India’s GDP and provides employments to about 50% of the country’s workforce. Be that as it may, it is still an unorganised sector and therefore no proper and effective mechanism is available to address their plight and exploitation, which gave rise to farmers’ revolt in India from time to time and dates back to 19th century when for the first-time farmers in indigo plantation revolted in 1859 against British rulers for their oppression and exploitation.

Next rebellion of farmers was in 1946 when farmers in Telangana region revolted against feudal lords of the region and Nizam of Hyderabad for writing off all the debts. The rebellion ended with the merger of Hyderabad State into India and established Communist Party of India in South India. Almost at the same time another movement started in Bengal known as ‘Tebhaga Movement’. The farmers of the region were to give half of their harvest to the landlords under contract farming. Tebhaga (sharing by third) movement was to reduce the landlord share to one third. The movement was initiated by Kisan Sabha (peasant wing of Communist Party of India) and established CPI in South and Kerala. Shetkari Sanghatan led by Sharad Joshi of Maharashtra was first mass agitation by farmers post Independent India in 1980. The root cause of this agitation was massive drop in onion prices. The Sanghatan aim was “freedom of access to markets and technology” and “remunerative agricultural prices”. Just eight years later Mahendra Singh Tikait, a farmer leader in Uttar Pradesh led another historic movement with not less than 5 lakh farmers and brought Delhi to a standstill in 1988 when it sieged the Boat Club area for 10 days. The then Rajiv Gandhi government had to concede most of the 35 demands. Incidentally his son Rakesh Singh Tikait is one of the leaders of the current agitation. Coming back to this agitation, the farmers are demanding repeal of the abovementioned three Acts.

The spark of this agitation inter alia is MSP (Minimum Support Price), APMC (Agriculture Produce Market Committee) or Mandis and contract farming. The government purchases farm produce through APMCs at MSPs. As per The Electronic National Agriculture Market (e-NAM), there are over 1000 mandis wherein 6.6 million farmers and 131000 traders are registered on its platform until May 2020. 23 agricultural produce are linked with APMC. Potato, onion, sugarcane and sugar are out of it. The new Acts made changes in operation of these APMCs and made provisions for sale of farm produce outside these mandis under an agreement between farmer and prospective buyer. The government argument is that farmers will be free to procure best price for their produce and will not be compelled to sell at MSP only. It is further argued that it will do away middlemen operating as of now between farmers and mandies. Farmers were of the view that with the implementation of new Acts, they will not be assured of any guaranteed income available under MSP. Abolishing APMC will bring in big corporates into agriculture sector through contract farming. MSP being the main point of contention at the beginning, other issues of disagreement also started cropping up with every passing day of agitation. Opposition parties also jumped into the support of farmers. Akali Dal has severed off its alliance with BJP and is out of NDA. Prakash Singh Badal along with some sportspersons have returned their civilian awards. Farmers are getting voice of support from abroad. The Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau considering large Sikh population there also issued a statement to end the deadlock. Harsimat Kaur, Central Minister in Modi-led Government from Akali Dal had already resigned. The government claims these bills as pro farmers while farmers consider it against them. Six rounds of talks between Government and farmers have remained inconclusive so far and farmers are still on agitation. With farmers adamant for repeal of the Acts and alleged support of opposition parties to the stir with certain vested interested groups, the stalemate continues.

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