Bihar farmers uneasy about new laws, experts find them ‘pro-corporate’

Contrary to the belief that free trade would alleviate sufferings of farmers, it only ended up harming their interest in Bihar

Paddy harvesting
After the abolition of APMC Act in 2006, the mandi system was scrapped in Bihar | File Photo: PTI

Bihar’s farmers, who are already under stress following the abolition of the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act 14 years ago, are now worried whether the new farm laws will aggravate their problems.

After the abolition of APMC Act in 2006, the mandi (wholesale markets for agricultural produce) system was scrapped in the state.

Later, the state government started procuring crops through Primary Agriculture Credit Societies (PACS) and Vyapar Mandal outlets, but these could not become robust alternatives for the mandi system. During the current Kharif season, PACS and Vyapar Mandal outlets have procured only over 16.77 lakh metric tonnes of paddy crops till January 20 evening against the target of 45 lakh metric tonnes of crops. The state government has set January 31 as the deadline for the procurement of paddy crops from farmers.

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Contrary to the popular belief that free trade would alleviate sufferings of farmers, it only ended up harming their interest in the state. There are innumerable instances when PACSs have refused to procure paddy crops from farmers on the ground of moisture in crops.

Farmers also have to wait for payment against sale of their crops, which compels them to sell their produce to local private buyers much below the minimum support price (MSP). But they have no other option as they need money for the next season.

In such a situation, farmers are taking these laws with a pinch of salt as  their experience with the 2006 reform is far from encouraging. Three new reforms are — Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.

Not in our interest, say farmers

Bihar Kisan Sangh president Dhirendra Singh Tudu said these three new farm laws are not in the interest of the state’s farmers. He said the farmers are in serious trouble ever since the state government abolished the mandi system as they are not getting remunerative prices for their produce.

Similarly, Tudu said, contract farming is also not in the interest of the state’s farmers. He said the farmers would suffer huge losses if corporate houses refuse to accept their produce any season on the ground of poor quality. He also accused the Narendra Modi government of fixing MSP for Rabi crops even before these were sown in November, a move that has no precedent in the last 10 years. The MSP was also increased only by ₹50, minimum during the same period.

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Tudu alleged prices of pulses, oil and oilseeds would increase alarmingly if the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act is implemented. The farmers would, however, not gain anything in the entire process, he added.

Vasudeo Kumar, native of Khujariparsa village in Saran district who grows mainly paddy, said he has not sold his paddy crops to anybody and is waiting for some ‘chuda’ (flattened rice) miller to pay a good price for his crops. For every quintal of paddy crops, he gets 50 kgs of flattened rice.

Vasudeo had sold 10 quintals of paddy crops at ₹1,400 per quintal last season. He said he does not depend on PACSs for the sale of his crops to avoid all the hassles. He also reasoned if the government has enacted new farm laws, it must be in the interest of farmers. He, however, admitted that he was not ‘adequately’ aware of the provisions of new laws.

‘Procurement system is middleman-friendly’

Former director of the city-based AN Sinha Institute of Social Studies and economist DM Diwakar said abolition of the APMC Act in Bihar has forced farmers to sell their produce at the lowest price. He said the PACSs themselves were cash-strapped and so farmers have to wait for a long period to get payments against procurement of their crops.

Diwakar said farmers are selling their crops in the range of ₹900-1,200 per quintal against the MSP of ₹1,868 for this season.

Financial condition of farmers has only deteriorated in Bihar following the abolition of APMC Act, he stated.

The farm laws have been enacted in a very hasty manner only to please corporate houses even as Bihar government is unnecessarily indulging in patting its back for abolishing APMC Act way back in 2006, he added.

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Santosh Singh, a political commentator and author of two books including recently published, ‘JP to BJP’, said the government is unable to procure more than 20 to 25 per cent of farmers’ produce, leaving the field wide open for middlemen.

The entire procurement system is middleman-friendly, he added.

Singh also demanded guarantee of MSP under the law, wondering why the MSP of agriculture produce could not be legally guaranteed when minimum sale price of even ordinary commodities are guaranteed.

“What is wrong in guaranteeing profits to farmers and why the government could not open processing units?” he asked, adding that the government has to find ways to ensure the farmers are able to earn profit.

State backs farm laws

Bihar Agriculture, Cooperative and Sugarcane Industries Minister Amrendra Pratap Singh said the state government is working hard to ensure that only farmers could sell their produce and no middleman, miller or trader could sell paddy at MSP after procuring them from farmers.

He said the government is also ensuring that the PACSs do not face a cash crunch and hence, the Cash Credit (CC) limit has also been increased even as the government has given bank guarantee for the purpose.

Farmers in Bihar will be highly benefited if the three new farm laws are implemented, he added.

‘Bihar farmers lowest on income ladder’

CPI(ML) General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya, whose party has launched a movement for paddy procurement on MSP, said procurement of crops in the state is among the lowest in the country as farmers are mostly subjected to distress sale.

He said the effective sale price is much lower than the official MSP, and consequently, Bihar farmers are on the lowest rung of the income ladder compared to other states of India. The farmers have been fighting every season to sell their crops, he added.

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