Telangana govt takes on farm laws to protect its farmer-friendly image

In the fourth story in a special farm series, The Federal finds out why the Telugu states are divided on farm laws with the government led by K Chandrashekar Rao keen to be seen on the side of the farmers and the ruling YSR Congress in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh backing the Centre on the three farm laws

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Manickam Tagore, the AICC in-charge for Telangana, sought an apology from K Chandrasekhar Rao for his remark

The TRS government in Telangana has opposed the new farm laws mainly on three grounds. They:

1) Undermine the federal spirit by encroaching on the powers of states.

2) Are detrimental to the interests of farmers and may lead to corporatisation of agriculture.

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3) Will lead to dismantling of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mechanisms and push the farmers into the exploitative stranglehold of corporates.

For a party that boasts of several pro-farmer initiatives like “Rythu Bandhu’ (financial support scheme), “Rythu Bharosa” (insurance scheme) and free power to agriculture sector, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) is keen to be seen on the side of farmers in the midst of growing protests against the farm laws. “Since agriculture is a state subject, the Centre has no business to make arbitrary laws that undermine the interests of states. These new laws are draconian, arbitrary and insensitive. We will fight them tooth and nail,” TRS working committee president and municipal administration and IT minister K T Rama Rao said.

On every issue fraught with federal ramifications, the NDA government has been arbitrary while pushing its agenda instead of taking the consensus route and trying to get the States on board, he added.

By bulldozing the farm reform bills in Parliament without addressing the genuine concerns of farmers and states, the Centre has hit at the foundations of the three pillars of food security structure: Minimum Support Price, Public Procurement and Public Distribution System.

States will lose out

The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, essentially bars state governments from levying fees on purchase or sale of produce outside the mandis functioning under the state APMCs.

It means that any such transaction outside the notified markets will no longer attract fees from the state government. Section 6 of the law says: “No market fee or cess or levy, by whatever name called, under any State APMC Act or any other State law, shall be levied on any farmer or trader or electronic trading and transaction platform for trade and commerce in scheduled farmers’ produce in a trade area.”

The farmer bodies are of the view that new laws will slowly end the MSP regime and lead to huge loss of revenue to APMCs which fall under the jurisdiction of state governments. They also believe that farmers could lose rights to their own land due to contract farming.

“These laws are against the spirit of the constitution. They will only help the big corporates in fleecing poor farmers,” State Agriculture Minister S Niranjan Reddy said.

Also read: Farmers’ deaths toughen families’ resolve as more members join protest

The minister pointed out that over 90 percent of farmers in Telangana are either small or marginal. “Removal of MSP would encourage private syndicates and cartels to cheat farmers by quoting low prices. Similarly, the removal of stock limits would lead to traders creating artificial shortages and inflating prices. This is detrimental to both farmers and consumers,” he said.

Undermining federal spirit

TRS leaders feel that a string of recent policy moves by the Centre have been at variance with the federal spirit of the country, infringing upon the rights of states even in matters that fall in their domain.

If the Electricity (Amendment) Act was a classic case of legislative overreach, the farm reform acts were not only detrimental to the interests of farmers but also amounted to usurping the powers of states. Since subjects like agriculture, public health and law and order are included in the state list, state governments should have complete freedom to take decisions in the interest of people of the region, the party has contended.

Also read: One farmer dies daily on average during protest as pressure takes toll on health

“The farm laws will only lead to dismantling the current security structures for farmers and expose them to the whims and fancies of the market players and their greed,” an official from the state agriculture department said.

Contrasting picture in Andhra

However, the ruling YSR Congress in neighbouring Andhra Pradesh has backed the Centre on the issue, largely for political reasons. Chief Minister Y S Jagan Mohan Reddy, who has a string of CBI cases pending against him, has been consistently supporting the NDA government on all major legislations. The opposition parties, including Telugu Desam Party, CPI and CPI (M), and farmers’ organisations have been staging protests against the farm laws. Coming out strongly in support of the new laws, YSRCP MP K Vijayasai Reddy said, “The laws will free farmers from the clutches of middlemen who usually form a cartel and offer low prices to the produce. By allowing contract farming, a farmer is assured of the sale price for his produce at a pre-determined price and the risk is transferred from the farmer to the buyer.”

The scale of farmers’ protests in Andhra is largely restricted, compared to their counterparts in Punjab and Haryana. “Unlike in Punjab and Haryana where paddy and wheat, covered by the MSP, are the dominant crops, a wider variety of crops are grown in AP and Telangana and the farmers here are not entirely dependent on government procurement. Moreover, an overwhelming majority of them are small and marginal farmers and that too tenant farmers,” said Kiran Kumar Vissa, a social activist and co-founder of Rythu Swarajya Vedika.

“In Telugu states, tenant farming is more prevalent. Landlords have jobs and businesses while some of them live abroad, and they are disinterested in the movement. In the coastal districts of Krishna, Guntur, East Godavari and West Godavari, 80 percent of the land is under tenant farming,” says Kesava Rao, a leader of Andhra Pradesh Rythu Sangham. “The laws assume that private players don’t exist today and the APMC is a monopoly which is not correct. Private players and farmers who sell outside the mandi look to the APMC for a reference price. So, how does the idea of getting rid of the inefficient APMC hold in this scenario,” wonders Sudha Narayanan, associate professor at Mumbai-based Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research.

It is possible that with the new laws, farmers may initially get a better price outside the mandis. Then, the traders may also move outside and subsequently, mandis will lose their relevance. “So, gradually if the APMC system collapses, then these laws don’t envision any alternative for a large market that can set the price signals,” said Narayanan.

To read the first story in the series, click here: Punjab farmers’ smile belies deeper angst of debt, poor prices

To read the second story in the series, click here: Farmers irked as govt moves to recover ‘wrong’ payouts in PM Kisan scheme

To read the third story in the series, click here: Bengal farmers need reform but not contentious farm laws

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