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Modi govt’s proposal shows it wants farmers to look unreasonable, not address their concerns

The Modi govt has put very little on the negotiating table. It wants us to believe that the two proposed amendments in the APMC bypass Act are the most substantial concessions.

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Now that the Narendra Modi government has agreed to amend the farm laws, why are farmers being so stubborn? Shouldn’t they seek amendments of their choice, rather than ask for complete repeal? Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it? That’s what the government’s proposal for amendments was meant to be: sound reasonable without addressing the farmers’ concerns and objections. The name of the game is to push the ball away from the government and make farmers look unreasonable in the propaganda war that the Modi government has unleashed against this historic rebellion. This game of proposals and amendments serves as a smokescreen for the devious game of iron hand and velvet gloves, even as lakhs of farmers face plunging temperatures and rains, having lost more than 50 protesters.

For all its claims, the Modi government has put very little on the negotiating table. The government’s proposal to amend two of these laws were first made orally during the talks on 5 December and rejected on the spot by the farmers’ delegation. The same proposal was put down on paper and sent to the farmers on 9 December and reiterated on the 16th. They met the same fate. Apart from an oral assurance of stepping back on two secondary issues (penalty on stubble burning and draft Electricity Bill 2020), the government is yet to add anything to its one-month-old proposal for a few amendments in the three contentious laws. Interestingly, the government has not even made a proposal addressing the objections of the farmers to the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act that facilitates the future plans of Adani Agri Logistics Ltd.


Also read: Why the farmers’ movement is no longer what the Modi govt thinks it is


Skirting the real issue with dual regulation

The Modi government would like us to believe that the two amendments it has proposed in the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) bypass Act – officially called Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 – are the most substantial concessions. The Centre proposes to allow the state governments to register private mandis and impose market cess/fees in them to the same extent as in the APMC mandis, and to register the traders. Mind you, the proposal is not about imposing cess/fee on private mandis as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) spokespersons claim on TV, but allowing the state governments to do so, if they so desire.

So, the government seems to have acknowledged one critical objection to this law by protesting farmers and many eminent economists – that it is unviable to have a dual regulatory system, with the state government regulation and fees under the APMC Act on the one hand, and practically no regulation in the ‘trade areas’ created by the FTPC Act on the other. Yet, the proposed amendments do not fix this problem, which is not simply about market cess, but about instituting unequal regulatory system. The amendments would not give states the power to regulate private mandis. Private traders and companies would still prefer to move to the poorly regulated space outside the mandis – thus leading to the collapse of APMC mandis and the support system they provide to the farmers.

Dual regulatory system is the heart of the matter in the APMC bypass law. While APMC mandis have many problems that need to be fixed, the farmers need a regulated market to protect their interests in terms of price, payments and fair market practices. They need regulated mandis to safeguard them on non-price issues such as weighing, grading, moisture measurement, etc., as well as facilities such as godowns and drying yards. We only need to look at Bihar or remote areas in any state, especially the tribal regions, to see that wherever farmers lack access to regulated market infrastructure, they face higher exploitation and lower prices.

The same applies to the Modi government’s proposal to allow the farmers to approach the civil courts for dispute resolution. The problem is that most small farmers have very little resources in terms of time, finances or legal expertise. Resolving disputes ex post facto by going to either a civil court or an SDM court is not viable for farmers, and they would often lack documentary proof to establish their case. What they need is a robust local regulatory system under the local and state government where their issues can be addressed immediately. Creating an unregulated market system and asking the farmers to go to court is not a solution.

You might ask: what if the government amends this law to do away with the dual regulatory system of creating ‘trade areas’ outside the APMC regulated markets? Well, in that case, you don’t need this law at all. You might as well repeal it.


Also read: Modi govt gave an unwanted gift to farmers. Now it can’t even handle rejection


Red herrings on contract farming

The Modi government’s proposal on amending the Contract Farming Act – officially called Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act – also dodges the real issues. The Centre has proposed an amendment that merely requires a copy of the written contract to be available with the SDM. The trouble is that very few companies register their contracts or even enter into written agreements. Almost all the contract farming that happens in India is ‘predatory contract farming’ through unregistered intermediaries such as ‘organisers’, where the farmers have no recourse when they make losses, when the seeds given by the company fail, or when the companies fail to purchase at the agreed price. The new Act only seeks to expand contract farming, without addressing these issues, and with no provision to ensure fair pricing.

Instead, the Modi government creates a straw man and destroys it. It seeks to introduce amendments to reassure the farmers that the company shall not be able to take away their land, or take a loan against any structure created on the farmers’ land by the company. It reiterates that no attachment of farmers’ land will be permitted under the contract. But that is not the point. The concern of farmers is about losing control of their land and assets as a consequence of contract farming.

Contract farming typically involves high input costs to the farmers with the promise that the company will purchase, often in commodities which preclude other buyers. But when they lose the crop or the company doesn’t keep up its promise, the farmers face huge losses, which push them into losing their assets. The two parties to the contract, small farmers and big agribusiness companies, are highly unequal in terms of financial and legal resources.

This has already happened under the existing contract farming. Seed farmers in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh lost lakhs of rupees due to faulty foundation seeds. Gherkin farmers found that their land was depleted and then they were dropped by the company after three years. They have little protection under the current Contract Farming Act. While Section 15 of the Act says that no action for recovery shall be initiated against the farmer’s agricultural land, the farmer can end up in deep debt, lose other assets such as house or tractor, and may end up selling land to protect from losses.

The Act provides for indirect control of agriculture by corporate houses. The ‘production agreements’ provided in Section 2(g)(ii) of the Act enable companies to make contracts with a large number of farmers in proximity and take over the cultivation. The Act already envisages that the contracting companies may set up structures on the farmers’ lands, showing that it is not simply about product purchase. Farmers can see that these are initial steps towards large-scale corporate farming and would lead to agriculture going out of their hands into those of the companies.


Also read: Manmohan Singh blundered with Anna movement. Modi is making the same mistake with farmers


Way forward

The final question: by asking for nothing less than a repeal of these laws, are farmers not obstructing reforms in agriculture? The simple answer is NO. Agriculture and agricultural marketing is a state subject. Most state governments have undertaken reforms in their APMC laws, pushed and incentivised by the central government. The Union Ministry of Agriculture acknowledged as late as in July 2019 that most of the provisions of the Model APMC Act, 2017 brought by this government had already been adopted by 20 states/UTs. Why rush through new acts, bypassing the state governments and the farmers? The Modi government must repeal these Acts and sit on the drawing board with the stakeholders to facilitate meaningful and effective reforms.

Kiran Vissa is a farmer activist with Rythu Swarajya Vedika and member of the working group of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee. 

Yogendra Yadav is the national president of Swaraj India. Views are personal.

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19 COMMENTS

  1. If the farmers are not anti- reform why are they not willing for a clause by clause discussion as proposed by the government but want a repeal.?
    If most of the provisions have been implemented by various States already, are they agitating because there are redundancies in the act?The acts allow farmers to trade beyond government mandis, without paying a cess. Is this not empowerment?
    Yadav et al fear cartelisation by corporates, but what about cartelisation by middlemen? By regulating contract farming, which is already happening, is n’ t a legal framework being introduced which would prevent exploitation of the farmer?
    Since the inception of MSP, has it ever beeen written into law?
    Why do n’t the agitators consider the govt’s proposal for setting up of an expert committee?
    Yadav et al would serve the interest of the farmers by going thru the Print report on the MSP debt trap and impact on the water table.

  2. Several inconsistencies in the narrative.
    If the farmers are not anti- reform why are they not willing for a clause by clause discussion as proposed by the government but want a repeal.?
    If most of the provisions have been implemented by various States already, are they agitating because there are redundancies in the act?The acts allow farmers to trade beyond government mandis, without paying a cess. Is this not empowerment?
    Yadav et al fear cartelisation by corporates, but what about cartelisation by middlemen? By regulating contract farming, which is already happening, is n’ t a legal framework being introduced which would prevent exploitation of the farmer?
    Since the inception of MSP, has it ever beeen written into law?
    Why do n’t the agitators consider the govt’s proposal for setting up of an expert committee?
    Yadav et al would serve the interest of the farmers by going thru the Print report on the MSP debt trap and impact on the water table.

  3. There appear to be many contradictions and discrepancies in this article.

    In case the farmers are not against reform in the agri sector, but rather concerned about loosing their lands, why not ask for safeguards rather than repeal of the laws?
    Yadav et al fear cartelisation by corporates,but what about cartelisation by middlemen which drives the farmer deeper into debt? There is a provision of a penalty in case a buyer defaults. The farmer can approach the ADM for grieviance redressal, so does not necessarily need to go to the civil court. The acts allow the farmer to trade beyond the state mandis, without having to pay a cess, how is this anti-farmer.? As a number of commodities have been deregulated hé can stock these and sell later when the price is right.
    The authors State that many provisions of the acts have been implemented by many states, so there is redundancy, right? Is this cause enough for blocking access to the national capital?
    Yadav et al would do well to go. through the Print report on the MSP debt cycle and the views of agri economists from Punjab.

  4. The moment I see Yogendra Yadav as an author or co-author, I just junk the article and move ahead. The Print must have some quality filters about what to publish and what not to. Sane editors like DK Singh make efforts to lift the standards of this group while opinion contributors like Mr YY spreads shit over all efforts

    • Indian: If you believe that Mr Yogendra Yadav spreads “shit”, I guess I am entitled to believe that the only thing you seem to be capable of doing is spreading “bullshit” !!!

      After all, you are incapable of rebutting Mr Yadav with solid counter-arguments right?

      • The moment Yogendra Yadav writes an article these IT cell unemployed dumbasses start barking with all ad hominem remarks. They have no content or context. Usually only the first sentence is enough to “filter” these mechanised idiots. I believe BJP is a clever party but then I doubt myself when they spend huge on these mechanised douchebags.

  5. All Bhagats here. These laws are another instance of Top down Voodoo policy like Demonetization.., which has no father now.

  6. Yogendra Yadav is like Forest Gump or Waldo, No matter what the issue, he is on the TV screen.
    He could make a lot of money if he rented his vest for ads.
    Elections, CAA, Prashant Bhushan, Farmers, every issue he is on TV.
    He learned a lot from his mentor Kejriwal, how to lie with zero remorse.

  7. Mr. Pappu Ji should start writing articles for The Print.
    Surely his Pakistani-Chinese friends can ghost write articles for Shri Pappu Ji? It doesn’t matter if he has the intellect of a donkey, what matters is that his name is a “Ji”.
    Pappu Ji has the entire Leftist world to back him up, the liberal media, his buddies across the border, the “poor farmers”, the little bleeding heart Dadis – that is surely enough to blow away a little ChaiWallah right?
    C’,mon Pappu Ji- show us what you are made of, you 51 year old youth icon!!

  8. we have entered a dangerous phase in our country where either its my way or highway . for some Modi can do no right and for others Modi can do no wrong . Even saner and neutral voices have started to speak in these binaries . Then policies will be decided by mobocracy . Whatever little I have heard from the economists , in nutshell these 3 laws are good for economy and agriculture About the authors at least I know one from the Nineties from his Tv appearances and all I can say he was a much better psephologist than his current role . I am afraid he is intensely anti Modi . Even his speech at ORF just after the 2019 elections sounded very anti Modi the way he observed trend and data of that elections .

    • Just the truth. This high pride has doomed leftists. This is why Modi can belittle opposition. These men like Yogendra Yadav do not understand economy in the least. While market economy has helped India to lift millions out of poverty, they would have liked to take us back to collective farming which was never practiced here. The shameless way in which they criticise the farm laws without an iota of intelligence is making people question them when they oppose GOVT’s really bad moves.

  9. Fake farmers like the authors of this article and the rich farmers of Punjab and Haryana are agitating, complete with their tractors, foot massage machines, dry fruits sherbet, pizza parties will not be satisfied with anything other than total repeal of the reforms. Farmers in other parts of the country are not supporting the agitation. Ordinary people in other parts of the country are opposing the agitation. The farmers, both fake and rich, are being unreasonable. The government does not have to make them look anything else.

  10. Flat arguments! Contradictory statements! Anti-reform and socialist views. For instance it says that if crop fails in contract farming, farmer would be huge debt. But if crop fails even without contract farming as well, farmer is still in debt and issues. Instead of working with govt. for further amendments authors of this articles are trying to foment issues. And we dont have lakhs of farmers on road. We only have a few thousands farmers influenced and misguided. My entire extended family have farmers and no one is protesting!

  11. Farmers demands to demand to goverment is like seller ( vegetable vendors) forcing customers to buy his goods double the price or seller will block customers entry into customers house
    ie. His freedom movement
    Punjab framers are behaving like spoiled brats
    Who crying more pocket money from government(parents)
    Instead of becoming financially independent

  12. Mr Yogendra Yadav, are you a farmer ? Why are you in the picture of this protest ? Or are you trying force the government to bend to your communist NIA mindset ? If every disgruntled group in India says which laws are acceptable to them, we will not need any parliament as people like you will decide which laws are kept and which are repealed ? Everybody else in the country are just useless voters sending MPs to parliament for no reason.

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