Driven by hubris, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have passed two anti-farmer agriculture bills in the Parliament. These bills are blueprints of establishing a corporate-feudal nexus’s hegemony in Indian agriculture. The Modi regime has been constantly peddling lies over these bills to hoodwink the ongoing farmers’ movements in Haryana and Punjab.
Modi called the passing of these anti-farmer agriculture bills with the help of the BJP’s brute majority in the Parliament a watershed moment. It’s rightly so because it helped to stir the very farmers the BJP thought have lost their tempo due to brazen Hindutva fascist proselytization.
What’s the reality that drove the Modi regime to pass these anti-farmer agriculture bills and moot the idea of diluting the provisions of the Essentials Commodities Act, 1955, to help hoarders and stockists stockpile food grain as much as they want to create artificial shortage? Why such a frantic attempt is taken to jeopardise India’s food security and push most of the people towards starvation? Will these bills, which the Modi regime is hailing as effective weapons against usurers, intermediaries in the farm sector and claims to empower the farmers, really help the farmers at all?
If we analyse these two anti-farmer agriculture bills passed by the Parliament––The 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––then we will find a few distinct features in them, which will prove why these bills, which are waiting to be laws after receiving the President’s assent, are actually empowering the corporates to exploit the vulnerable, disorganised and marginalised farmers, who are already in a grave financial crisis due to a flawed agricultural policy adopted in India to serve the big feudal landlords and usurers. Rather than ending farmer suicides, or emancipating the farmers from the debt trap, these bills will make them slaves of big corporates. Let us examine the bills and bust the propaganda milled by the BJP.
Will these anti-farmer agriculture bills end the rule of the intermediaries?
The intermediaries or middlemen are key elements in the Indian semi-feudal agricultural setup. They are linkmen between the farmers and the stockists and traders who are engaged in wholesale food grain or agricultural trade.
Despite a lot of hullaballoo over connecting the farmers directly to the markets and “empowering” them by bypassing the middlemen, neither The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 nor The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, end the reign of such middlemen. The farmers, who approached the middlemen when they didn’t get the government’s minimum support price (MSP), will now have to compulsorily sell to these middlemen due to the government’s gradual withdrawal from the procurement scenario, despite the prime minister’s hollow assertions.
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, defines a “trader” in subsection (n) of section 2, in the following way:
(n) “trader” means 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.
So, “a person who buys farmers’ produce” “on behalf of one or more persons for the purpose of wholesale trade, retail…” will be called a “trader”. Such a “trader” will have the privilege to engage in the “inter-State trade or intra-State trade of scheduled farmers’ produce with a farmer or another trader” according to section 4(1).
This means the farmers will be now lured by unscrupulous traders or middlemen with a licence, to trade outside the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) marketplaces. Though the farmers didn’t earn adequate money within the APMCs or were mostly deprived of the MSP, which is largely bagged by the big feudal landlords and rich farmers, the trading outside these markets will make them far more vulnerable.
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, defines an “aggregator” in section 10(i) as any person who acts as an “intermediary between a farmer or a group of farmers and a Sponsor.” It’s the intermediary who can enter into an agreement apart from the “Sponsor” or those who will invest in the crops upon certain terms and conditions.
These two provisions in these two anti-farmer agriculture bills prove that there is no intention of ending the reign of these middlemen, who also form a bulwark of the BJP’s support base in rural India. With such intermediaries between the buyers and the sellers, it’s impossible for the farmers to bargain a better price for their produce, rather, due to the absence of the APMCs and any regulatory measures, these middlemen will be able to rob the farmers with absolute impunity now.
Will the farmers get better prices for their produce?
The BJP has been talking about doubling the farmers’ income by 2022. Though we have shown earlier that neither such a declaration nor any marginal increase in the MSP of crops, based on a model contrary to what Dr Swaminathan Commission suggested, will help to increase the farmers’ income or better their lives, the BJP has been creating a surreal euphoria to tantalise the farmers with a promise of higher returns.
If the farmers’ income scope is seen in The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, then it will be clear that it’s only the corporates who are going to enjoy the leverage.
Section 3, chapter II, of the Bill states that a farmer may enter into a written agreement with a Sponsor, ie, a company that will place an order for farming a specific crop, of a specific quality, grade and quantity. It’s well understood in a country like India, where the farmers lack proper education and knowledge of legal affairs, that there will be no scope for them to bargain a fair deal from corporate houses that have an organised battery of legal experts who will ensure that the farmers are exploited to the extreme to squeeze out maximum profit.
Though Modi, to quell the farmers’ agitation against the two anti-farmer agriculture bills, declared a meagre increase in the MSP of wheat and other crops, it’s clear that the enactment of the law will reduce the role of the government in the market and the MSP will only have a symbolic value. With nowhere to fall back to, the farmers of many essential food grains will have to accept the bait dangled by corporate houses. This won’t increase their income at a time when food inflation is shooting up constantly, rather push them into the worst crisis phase.
The MSP was always reserved for a handful of farmers in the APMCs, especially the big feudal landlords and rich farmers. But its existence as an option and a minimal government role in crop purchasing for the public distribution system (PDS) provided little, though fragile, security cover to the farmers. But now, by removing most of the food grains, cereals, oilseeds, etc, from the purview of the Essentials Commodities Act, 1955, the Modi regime isn’t merely allowing the stockists and hoarders to create an artificial shortage in the market and exploit the common people, it’s also pushing the majority of the farmers into utmost destitution as they won’t have much money left to buy essential commodities for their families.
How will the common people suffer due to the agriculture reforms?
While the BJP is claiming that food prices will stabilise due to higher competition after the liberalisation of the agriculture sector, in reality it will be the opposite. Big capital isn’t entering the farm sector in collaboration with the feudal classes to provide cheap food to the people. Rather, it will be exploiting the food market by monopolising control and destroying competition.
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, doesn’t limit or restrict the number of farmers or their percentage in a specific area, who can join the contract farming system. This means the corporates can sign up for large tracts of lands with a large number of farmers and have them cultivate such crops that have higher selling potential or are immensely profitable.
So, if a large section of farmers and their land are taken away from food grain production for cultivating cash crops, then it’s evident that an acute food shortage will happen in the market. Moreover, if, in case, only expensive food items or cereals are cultivated for the rich and high-income sections, then too the majority of the masses will suffer due to the food crisis.
The liberalisation of inter-State trade and exporting of food grains under The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, will allow rampant export of food grains by corporates. This will trigger a large-scale blackmarketing of scarce food grains in the Indian market and push millions into a semi-pauperised stage at a time when unemployment has skyrocketed. Even the majority of the 140-million-plus farmers can’t afford to purchase food for their families. This will be a remake of the Bengal famine of the 1940s.
Moreover, as the government will slowly move out of the agriculture market, the PDS will suffer immensely as the Food Corporation of India warehouses will experience a shortage of grains and no large-scale purchasing will be done to replenish stocks. The unavailability of food grains in fair price shops will aid the blackmarketers to exploit the poor and rob them. No wonder, the BJP has its largest support base among the wholesale traders, stockists and hoarders.
What is to be done?
These two anti-farmer agriculture bills will not only rob the farmers but also the general poor people, who won’t be able to buy food at fair price anymore. By destroying the MSP and PDS, the Modi regime is forcing the poor people to starve. Therefore, the farmers’ movement against these two anti-farmer agriculture bills aren’t exclusively their movements, but a people’s movement too.
In order to politically educate, arouse and mobilise the farmers and the common people against these two anti-farmer agriculture bills, the democratic and anti-fascist forces must seize the moment and build up solidarity movements throughout India. A collective movement and a fierce resistance to the government’s juggernaut can definitely force the Modi regime and the BJP to retreat on these bills and scrap them. The farmers and the people’s movements must set focus on such an objective and intensify the movements at the grassroots.