Experience has shown that farmers who have opted out of agriculture have made a better living for themselves while many of those who stayed back have become impoverished and indebted. The closed character of agriculture is largely due to governmental restrictions in many regions on non-farmers entering the sector. Those who make a living out of agriculture sometimes find no escape. They are also denied access to new investments and capital” – Sharad Joshi, Founder of Shetakari Sanghatana, Farmer can look to greener pastures, http://www.sharadjoshi.in/node/53
Reform has been a buzzword since we adopted the policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation in the 1990s. All decisions meant to push different sectors to the private players without any protection in the global competition were defined as reforms by the successive Government. It was clearly an antidote to the socialist thinking that prevailed since the Independence and marketed as the Hindu Rate of Growth. Naturally, when the Union Government introduced three legislations bringing changes in Agriculture laws, many people are concerned – for different reasons. We need to test them on the parameters of intentions and implications instead of political considerations.
Out of the three bills related to the Agriculture that got the approval of the Parliament, most of the confusions are about ‘The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020’. Farmers should get the right price for their produce in the absence of intermediaries is the explicit goal of this bill. The socialist mindset and parties that survive on peasant’s politics thrived solely on the mushrooming of ‘middleman culture’ are naturally opposing this transformation. The Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMCs), controlled by these so-called farmers, are essentially the business space of commission-based manipulators. They are the once who are spreading this rumour about the scrapping of Minimum Support Price (MSP) that Government gives for purchasing specific farm produce. Neither APMCs nor MSP would be scrapped, and the nature of Acts and actions of the Union Government makes it amply clear. Whether there should be a separate bill for ensuring MSP or criminalising the payment less than MSP is a question which we certainly can discuss. Over the period, based on the experience, separate legislation can be considered for the same. Till now, MSP has been an administrative mechanism and not a legislative one.
The same is true about the idea of Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance. The new legislation will empower farmers for engaging with processors, wholesalers, aggregators, large retailers, exporters, etc., on a level playing field. It will assure price to farmers even before sowing of crops, reducing their risk. The apprehensions about ‘contract farming’ and dispute mechanism under it are understandable. Why should we distrust the ability and acumen of our farmers just because benevolent custodians of their interests do so? Equipping and training farmers to deal with these players should be the priority for the real votaries of farmers interests.
The absence of competitive culture and quality parameters in the domestic market due to the Quota Permit Raj was the biggest problem with the sudden opening up of the industrial sector to the international players. These new legislations are avoiding the same risk in the Agriculture Sector. While doing so, the Government is not shying away from its responsibility of providing the minimum support to the farmers. They are facilitated with a new set of environment. Instead of pitching the economics on the binaries of Industry vs Agriculture and Urban Vs Rural, creating new bridges for the meaningful interdependence should be our national goal. For that redefining the concept of reforms on Bharatiya parameters is essential.