American author Mark Twain said, “A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is just putting its shoes on.” The quote is understandable and to an extent, even sublime. It’s because the truth is bland and boring, dry and dull, underwhelming and unimaginative, while a lie entertains, giving the mundane reality a theatrical spin.
The ‘farm laws’, as they are infamously known, have taken the country by storm. Almost everybody has an opinion on them and widely defend their stance. But what does it entail?
Broadly, without getting into the legal minutiae, the central government passed three bills that killed three birds with three stones but on one hunt, which is fairly profitable. These birds were quota restrictions on agricultural produce, monopolising power of the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) and the agricultural sector’s dry spell with privatisation.
The relationship of the APMC and the farmer is a fairly toxic one. Their stranglehold ensured that the farmer could only sell within the state and that their produce could not transcend geographical borders. Furthermore, the few number of traders constituting the APMC would join hands to agree upon a price a farmer couldn’t refuse since he or she had nowhere else to go to.
More formally, in the language of economics, the traders had entered into a cartel and were ‘price-makers’ and the helpless farmer was a ‘price taker’. The final nail in the farmer’s coffin were quota restrictions which were brought about in the fear that farmer’s may sell extra produce in the ‘black market’ which was essentially any market where the APMC’s weren’t involved. Thus the unfortunate farmer had to trade in the many extra units of produce he or she could’ve made to avoid getting dragged away by the authorities into a squalid cell. The brutality of this system could probably give the zamindari system a run for its money.
Several economists are of the opinion that a big mistake was that India did not capitalise on agriculture but on industry, despite being a labour-intensive country, and the country is still paying the price for this. Moreover, 46 per cent of India’s population depends on agriculture while it contributes to only 14 per cent of its GDP. The per capita income of an Indian farmer is $1,500, a mere speck compared to Germany ($16,700), with whom India is often compared owing to similarities in economic structure.
Farmers afflicted with misinformation
So while the agricultural sector is obsolete, the farmer is being asphyxiated, and the backbone of the economy is crying for reform, how have these bills come to be perceived as ‘anti-farmer’?
Remember when we spoke about how three metaphorical birds were killed?
Well, there was another one that managed to get away, the bird of misinformation. It soared the skies and its coos spreading far and wide. Misinformation that the private sector would bully the farmer into accepting whatever price they deemed fit and thus the death of MSP (Minimum Support Price). Misinformation that APMCs would completely shut down, while the bills clearly give the farmer the room to enter into an agreement with either party.
Another anomaly is that if the bills are truly anti-farmer, why is it that only the farmers of Punjab share the spotlight? Upon closer examination the answer becomes clear. For the states of Punjab and Haryana, the FCI (Food Corporation of India) pays an 8.5 per cent ‘mandi tax’ while buying rice and wheat for the national buffer stock. Out of this, 2.5 per cent is shared amongst the Mandi committee (which consists of ‘big’ farmers) and 6 per cent goes to the government of Punjab.
The passage of these laws is a double whammy to the ‘big’ farmer. Not only does he lose out on the 2.5 per cent revenue, he also cannot strong-arm the ‘small’ farmer into submission. One can easily understand his disgruntlement and why he would take to the streets with seething anger.
But why is misinformation of this scale being spread in a digital age as this? It’s because the government doesn’t wish to communicate, seeming to have taken the Essential Commodities Act, and thinking it applies to words as well.
While bringing out a change of such scale, it is unfathomable why the government would not market it and have every spokesperson speak about the laws in detail. The Opposition is doing the job of ruffling feathers, even if it means contradicting what it promised in its own manifesto. Then why isn’t the government?
Furthermore, the farmers have said that they will continue protesting till the bills are rescinded. You cannot negotiate terms with a party that isn’t willing to negotiate. What you can ensure is that the public is well-informed of the laws and not let the opinion of the country be swayed by those who cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.
Sharran Vishvanath is a student of St Joseph’s College (Autonomous), Bangalore