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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 2, New Delhi, December 26 2020

Conquest of Agrifarm | Sardar Amjad Ali

Saturday 26 December 2020, by Sardar Amjad Ali

In the Covid pandemic and December winter of Northern India, a few lakh peasants and farmers have organised a protest march towards the national capital demanding the repeal of the 3 anti-farmer legislations recently enacted by the Modi Government. It is perhaps an unprecedented event in free India and the largest peasant revolt in the world ever, when the tillers of the soil and the occupants of the farmhouses have been forced to abdicate their traditional occupation for begging justice from a representative government in a welfare state.

They want abrogation of those 3 laws by which according to them, the agrarian economy of the country is sought to be controlled and dominated by a few chosen Industrial players. Surprisingly, even before the laws saw the light of the day, those industrial giants have built up warehouses which can store umpteen quantities of foodgrains.

It can be unhesitatingly said that prospective victims of those offending enactments would be the marginal, middle-ranking and poor producers. Ultimately the agrarian economy of the country will be an empire of the capitalist class having no acquaintance with agri-farming whereas those engaged in the vocation for long will turn to be serfs and servants in their own field as wage earners. A 16th-century paranoia indeed!

The capitalist class, as the farmers believe, will take agri-farming as business enterprise for profit without having to bear any responsibility towards the fertility, productivity or the quality of the products. Per contra, the Government advances its argument that the agrarian economy of the nation needs to undergo a process of reform in the light of the modern-day expertise, technology, and setting apart the age-old farming exercise. The reform that the Government sought to introduce by those laws commensurate with modern-day agro-economic parameters and free-market concept to safeguard the farmers’ interests and their economic benefits. Freedom of choosing the prospective buyers of their produce without having to bind themselves under any compulsory or regulatory process of marketing their commodities would be assured.

It is also said that by those enactments the producers are free to choose the means and methods of production and marketing even by contract farming.

Conceptually, peasants and farmers do not go together. While peasants are primarily occupied with tilling of lands for the production of foodgrains such as paddy, wheat, maize, mustard, sugarcane, soyabeans, pulses or vegetables, even cotton or the likes, farmers produce milk, butter, ghee, eggs, honey are basically not dependent upon tilling exercise of land. But in legal or popular parlance, all such products are essential commodities for human consumption for which a separate law was enacted as far back as in 1955 namely Essential Commodities Act, 1955.

At the end of the day, the purported reform encompasses both the two distinct groups of producers.

In our Kisan Mandis which is likely to be gradually deactivated in course of time, we have almost all types of agri and dairy items which we need for our substantive food. Unfortunately, humans or for matter of that even animals do not live on water or air intakes only.

One can not ignore that in the process of food production not only human beings but also considerable livestock population also encompass the net. All those basic components are essential for production of food items for the nation.

It is well neigh impossible for a peasant or a farmer to invest of his own for every singular component for the desired product out of his own income from his occupation. There was and still is, as agriculture or any other farming is not yet a profitable enterprise, a dire necessity of amnesty in the form of subsidy on fertilizers, procurement of agricultural or farm equipments, say seeds, tractors, pumpsets, thrashing machines, construction of scientific hatcheries, procurement of healthy milching cattle, maintenance of vets, processing and preservation of milk products or building up of warehouses etc.

Every item of agri or farm products is essential for a living population, be it human or animal in society. Mode of consumption, however, can vary according to habits, affordability, availability or productivity of the consumables vis-à-vis the Consumer. The consumer class, therefore, is no less an important factor in the overall enterprise.

Bonafides of the rival claims of the parties in the fray lay on an unbiased and objective assessment on such backdrop.

A reformatory step, no doubt, is a welcome measure for a progressive society and a nation should not decry such a step. But every reformatory, step by a Government, particularly by a Government formed on the principles of administering justice, both social, economic and political can not be lopsided, tainted with bias, visibly sought to inflict irreparable injuries to a sizeable section of a populace on whose entrepreneurship the basic foundation of the nation’s economy depends. The agricultural economy being the lifeline of Indian economy as a whole can not, therefore, be subjected to any incisive attack in the guise of a reform agenda which may ultimately cause damage to the sector as a whole with cumulative effect.

3 offending legislations have invited sardonic attacks not only from the growers of food items but also from different quarters of citizenry i.e, scientists, economists, professionals like medics, engineers, educationists and others. It could have been well understood had it been found offensive and adversarial to the interest of the growers alone but when a sizeable section of consumers register their protests by supporting the dissenters, the civic society can not remain passive onlookers. In fact, it exactly had sent a message down the line more critical than cordial and that too for a well defined reason.

Notwithstanding the legislative process through which the bills, having originated in the form of ordinances, later passed ignoring demands from a sizeable section of opposition for remitting the bills to joint select committee or Parliamentary Committees for in-depth analytical discussion and finally to arrive at a cohesive conclusion, final adaptation of the bills on a war footing reveals an undesirable majoritarian attitude of a government based on the headcount of the legislators, not of course on the percentage of the electorate voting for a government formation. In the process lies an ostensible purpose and unethical, extrajudicial and hidden agenda.

The bills encompassing the designated field of agriculture being a state subject in the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, have been passed by the Central Legislature by usurping the power of State legislatures as a Finance bill, fraudulently claimed, ceremoniously violated the sanctity of federalism with impunity and by playing fraud upon the Constitution.

Substituting an alternate market set up favouring corporate players sans obligatory minimum support price (MSP), ostensibly favouring the growers liberty to bargain for a good price for her produce will ultimately lead to a situation of distress sale when procurement without MSP becomes a laid down policy of the sovereign power. An atmosphere of bargain postulates a rival in the process of a market economy. A government basically favouring a capitalist economy can hardly be trusted to play the role of a benign rival bidder.

Growers have the expertise, not the corporate players, to determine as to which of the generic seeds, at what intervals would, without the fertility of the soil being irretrievably damaged, with what frequency of irrigation involving reduced cost of fertilizer, electricity, pesticides and subsoil water consumed would the yield be profitable considering MSP. In the absence of an MSP hereafter would a farmer be compelled to set foot on his traditional vocation with uncertain return in value of his product. There lies insurmountable awe and worries.

Institutional financing in the form of fertilizers subsidy, Bank loan, crop insurance, as policy incentive of the government helped enormous growth in production. During the reform regime whether such policy incentive would continue as before have not been spelt out. As a result, suspicion looms large as to the quantum growth of production in future.

Development of communicable rural roads leading to APMC mandis built up by the local agencies from out of the fees collected from the mandis laid certain advantage for the producers to transport their produce to a definite place for marketing. But by opening a new vista of corporate market according to their convenience without having to pay any fees will in all probability not only degenerate the APMC mandi infrastructure and the rural communication network forcing the farmers to be more dependent on those corporate vending points, severe burnt whereof will have to be faced by the poor and marginal farmers.

Incidentally not only are those 3 offending legislations going adverse to the interest of those dependant on agriculture sector majority of whom live in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Bihar and Odisha for their livelihood but the Electricity Act 2003 having been drastically amended by Modi regime is also going to affect the Community with equally pernicious effect. By the amended Electricity Act the Centre has assumed power to regulate the tariff structure and the extent of subsidy. Electrical subsidy for lift irrigation of subsoil water for agri-farming is likely to hit the farmers.

By the amended provisions of Essential Commodities Act, several food items having been declared non-essential and hoarding no offence in the guise of the reform agenda laid a wide turf for the Corporate players to let loose their demonic aggression for the conquest of the Agri-farm sector of free India — Thanks to the Modi Government.

(Author: The writer is a former Congress member of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, General Secretary, Congress party in Parliament and a Senior Advocate of Calcutta High Court.)

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