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Home » India » Opinion: Reform or Repeal? Uncertainty looms over Indian Agricultural Sector

India

Opinion: Reform or Repeal? Uncertainty looms over Indian Agricultural Sector

India’s farmer protest has not only created a nationwide stir but has also caused ripples on a global scale.

India’s farmer protest has not only created a nationwide stir but has also caused ripples on a global scale. Even though, multiple rounds of talks, discussions and negotiations have taken place over the last two and a half months, the issue remains in limbo.

The farmers are protesting against the three Farm Bills that were passed in Parliament recently. These are namely the  Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and Farmer’s (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services, 2020. The third is the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 that the farmers want repealed as well besides the two new Bills.

The new Farm Bills are designed to offer more freedom and benefits to farmers in the long run. Besides putting an end to monopolisation by the cartels at the Mandi level and allowing farmers to sell their produce to anyone anywhere, the Bills also propose to make way for a paradigm shift in the way agriculture is perceived in India. With more and more farmers opting for contract farming in future, the risks over the crops are envisaged to shift to the contractor, thereby freeing the farmers from the vagaries and uncertainties associated with farming. 

Following widespread disagreement over the passing of the new Farm Bills, the government has taken a stand and assured on the floor of Parliament that the MSP policy and government procurement system will remain in place like before. But, fear, lack of trust and ill-formed opinions have slackened the pace of dialogue between the concerned parties resulting in a stalemate so far. 

Time immemorial, it has never been wise to let the vested interests of a handful take centre stage. Here, we are talking about the states like Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh where the buying agents in the Mandis have been making hundreds of crores as commission, a bounty that they stand to lose if these new Bills come into force. Also, the farmers in these states fear that the government might use these Bills to scrap off the procurement system and MSP policy in times to come. 

To an extent, apprehensions of the farmers are justified. At the onset of every agricultural cycle, the Food Corporation of India sets the MSP, thereby motivating the farmers to work towards getting a higher crop yield. The government procurement system and MSP policy work as a safety net for the farmers, an assurance they have been accustomed to since the 60s. According to statistics, almost 85 to 90 per cent of the wheat and rice crops grown in Punjab and Haryana are guaranteed procurement by the government. The farmers in these states are also guaranteed MSP for their crops and thus face little or no risks.

Since the governments in these states procure only wheat and rice from the farmers, they prefer to grow only these crops for better gains, thus causing a shortage of other crops like pulses and oil seeds. Soil deterioration and depletion of groundwater are some of the other serious challenges that these water-strapped areas face due to over cultivation of water-intensive crops like rice.

There is no denying the fact that the Bills have been passed in a hurried manner without taking all the concerned parties and stakeholders into confidence. This has resulted in doubts and misconceptions among the majority of people. The farmers are also largely wary of the corporates as they fear that the big players in the field might take advantage of the situation in future and exploit them by dictating their own terms and conditions.

In a democracy, citizens have the right to protest and contest against unfair means and practices imposed on them. But if it involves the larger good of the society, it is imperative that the issue is looked at with a broader perspective and farsightedness. Blocking roads and highways, staging bandhs and dharnas, causing damage to public property and disrupting public transport are certainly not the way to go. 

Freeing agricultural markets is a bold step that the government has taken this time. Demonetisation drive in 2016 and GST implementation in 2017 that are viewed as huge debacles also haven’t deterred the establishment to go a step further and implement the much needed agricultural reforms. It is a huge political risk on the part of the government that we can not ignore to acknowledge.

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Now, it is the turn of the farmers to also step ahead and acknowledge the new normal. It is high time to put an end to politics in agriculture and farming. The recent call by the farmers for a nationwide rail blockade on 18th February, 2021 is a dampener to the spirit of reconciliation.

Unfortunately, talks and meetings held between the farmers’ representatives and the government have remained inconclusive so far. Though, the government has proposed to make amendments in the Farm Bills, the farmers’ lobby is demanding a complete rollback of the Bills and a legal assurance for MSP.

At this point, farmers need to come together and hold their ground for fair negotiations. In the wake of the recent pandemic, the importance of the rural sector has come to the fore. With urban manufacturing sector running dry, it’s now the turn of the agricultural sector to get a good deal. There are going to be risks involved, but in the end, there is little gain without pain. The farmers need to trust the intention and capability of the government to bring reforms that will make them more productive, not to mention the prosperity that will follow eventually.

It’s time for the farmers and the government to make bargains with each other. Because, a compromise is not always a losing proposition. At many a time, it is the only way forward.

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