Thousands of farmers protesting against the farm laws participated in Thursday’s (January 7) ‘tractor march’, which farmer leader Yogendra Yadav had described a “trailer of what lies ahead on January 26”. Besides farmers, consumers like engineers, chartered accountants et al also lent their support to the agitating farmers.
In fact, the most prominent feature of Thursday’s protest was the involvement of thousands of non-farmers from Haryana and Punjab. They rode the tractors along with farmers and stayed on till every one reached the Kundli-Manesar Palwal (KMP) Expressway — the meeting point for all protesters.
Bijendra Singh (67), a retired central government official from Delhi, joined the farmers. He said, “These laws are less dangerous to farmers and more troublesome for us, the consumers. In the 1960s, there was no law regarding stocking of grains. So the big traders used to stock the grain and sell it when prices would go up. The movies of the era showed this disparity very prominently. Similar thing may happen now,” Singh said, referring to removal of restrictions on stocking of grains under the new law.
“The new law will ease entry of traders in the farm sector. In case of Punjab and Haryana, any trader will be able to buy anything from a farmer, even at a rate less than minimum support price (MSP). The government has allowed contract farming as well. Now big corporates will not even feel the need to buy crops…they will take fields on contracts. Since the farmers are already in distress, they will give their fields away and accept a permanent monthly salary which will be way less than the price of crops they can fetch in the market,” Bijendra Singh said. He also objected to traders being given the freedom to stock the agriculture produce. “Traders and private players will stock grains for long period of time and will sell them at a higher price later. I see the introduction of laws as a clear effort to privatise the agriculture sector,” Bijendra Singh added.
Vinita Sharma, a chartered accountant based out of Rohtak in Haryana, said these laws can only help if the farmers are able to sell at a price higher than the MSP. “If they sell at less than MSP, the laws are useless for them and if they sell for more than MSP, consumers will end up paying more for their produce. These laws are like a double edge sword and if they continue, either farmers or consumers will be at a loss.”
“I don’t know what the government was thinking while making these laws. There is not a single reason I feel these legislations were required. I have studied the laws completely. I can tell you that they were brought in a hurry without proper consultation. They must be scrapped,” Sharma added.
‘Will not return unless laws are repealed’
Meanwhile, Gurnam Singh Chadauni, president of Bhartiya Kisan Union Haryana, told ‘The Federal’ that they will return only after the laws are scrapped. “From the very beginning we are saying that these laws will neither help farmers nor consumers. In the last meeting, we had a chance to agree on MSP. But we told them to withdraw the laws first and then we will talk about MSP. Now non-farmers are also supporting us.”
Harendra Singh Lakhwal, president of Punjab Kisan Union, told The Federal that they never demanded these laws, then why is the government pushing for such legislations? “We were demanding better MSPs and better auctions in mandis, but we never wanted privatization in farming. Now the government wants to remove MSP and we cannot even demand an increase in MSP.”
(For records, the Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar has agreed to give a written assurance on MSP).
Lakhwal said the laws are misleading. “The biggest lie is that the new laws will allow farmers to sell their goods anywhere. As a matter of fact, farmers have had this exemption since 1977. A similar lie is being told about crop storage. They say that now farmers will be able to stock their produce. Farmers do not have the ability to stock the produce. This stocking provision in the law will benefit the rich and influential who will now be able to set prices by hoarding.”
Citing an example of his neighbourhood, Lakhwal said, “On the Kurukshetra-Kaithal highway in Haryana, there’s a place called Dhand where (Gautam) Adani has a warehouse. There is a facility where wheat can be stored for 10 years. Common farmers or small traders cannot have such warehouses. Then people like Adani will be able to store for years by purchasing the ration and they will control the entire market when they have unlimited stock. Just like in the telecom world today, where the entire market belongs to Ambani, in the coming years all the farming will also be done by the industrialists.”
“It is not just about farmers but about all people in the country. It is a matter of public versus corporate. A few wealthy people will buy goods from all the farmers and then the whole country will be compelled to buy from them only. That means the whole country will have to be their customer,” he added.
Arun Kumar, Malcolm Adiseshiah Chair Professor, Institute of Social Science, New Delhi told ‘The Federal’ that the farm laws are not the solution to agrarian crisis of India, but it will definitely deepen the crisis for consumers. “The real solution lies in federalism. You (Centre) cannot really decide for all the farmers in the country. Agriculture is a state subject and let the states decide what is best for that particular region. India is a diverse country and a single law cannot help all the farmers of the country.”