It's farmers now

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It's farmers now

Wednesday, 13 January 2021 | Pioneer

It's farmers now

SC moots panel of agri experts, asks protesters to forward names. Farmers should give court mediation a chance

The Supreme Court may have been disappointed with the Government for abandoning its negotiation skills to resolve the farm laws crisis and showed its actionable intent by setting up an expert committee but the question remains: Is this mediatory framework agreeable to farmers, who consider it another diversionary tactic through the judicial route? The court, though, by insisting on “fair play”, seeking suggestions on agri experts — including those whom the protesters are comfortable with — and assuring them that “nobody’s land will be sold” has now lobbed the ball in the farmers’ court; especially by highlighting the difference “between politics and judiciary” and asking them to make a moral choice. The farmers, who have anyway signed up for the long haul, should, therefore, give this court-mediated exercise a chance. The court would present them with a serious forum to voice their concerns, something that got drowned in Parliament as the Government steamrolled the Bills. This is their opportunity to publicise their arguments against the much-feared corporatisation of agriculture. One cannot disregard the fears of farmers as they cite how corporatisation of agriculture in the US, where factory farming gave birth to an uninterrupted chain of “farm to fork”, has wiped out rural communities, their organic methods, their unique produce and their relevance. It all began in the 1970s with the dream of becoming big enough to command the world’s food market with industrialised processes, merging of lands and shifting priorities to commodity crops. But in no time there was a glut due to over-production; farmers could never get the commensurate prices and were driven to debts. They had no option but to foreclose and sell out. Luckily, our contentious clauses are confined to certain provisions, which can be worked out if there is political will.

While the Government insists that the new laws will help create “one nation, one market” and remove trade barriers, the farmers fear that in an open, competitive market, they would not get the minimum support price (MSP) that the Government promised to continue. Besides, they feel that entering into contracts with corporations would willy-nilly give the latter greater control over them. And, that although the older system would continue as a weakened parallel mechanism, it would ultimately crumble before emerging monopolies. For example, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, allows buys and sales outside the notified Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis, thereby limiting their cartelisation tendencies. It also prohibits the State Governments from collecting any market fee, cess or levy for trade outside the APMC markets. The farmers want clarity on what “outside” means and, contrary to perception that they want the middlemen out, they actually have a trusted bond with their existing commission agents as their licence is proof enough of their credibility and delivery abilities. The Government, after several rounds of talks, had agreed to certify and define buyers. As for contract farming, at the moment it is undertaken with regard to specific crops, particularly those of processing grades or those that are tailor-made for the food majors. As for the sale and purchase of farm produce outside the premises of APMC mandis, the use of the word “trade” for agricultural produce can be made conditional on farmers selling their produce first on their terms directly or to the mandis and the trader taking off from there. Finally, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, aims to remove cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes from a regulated list, except in emergencies. But considering that stock limits apply only to traders, the farmers are not affected directly. In such cases, farmers can be incentivised with cash transfers.

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