TNS Explainer: Uncovering the new farm bills! Why farmers are protesting and what they demand?

The bills that were proposed and passed in the second term of the Modi government have no history of enjoying a serene and convenient passage in the Parliament as all the bills had and have been facing a reception of controversies, uproar, protests, and agitations from the opposition parties, activists, and people as most of the bills had the grounds of biased and prejudicial treatments. 

A short look back would give us a clear picture. The bills like the Jammu & Kashmir Reorganization Act, the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), National Register of Citizens (NRC), National Population Register (NPR), Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), 2020, National Educational Policy (NEP), 2020, have been some of the major bills that ran through the nationwide agitation with the country outraging against the Center that these bills and policies threaten the diversity of the nation, poisons the rights guaranteed to the minorities, makes nation's autonomy vulnerable, oppress the voices of people, and imposes one system in a diversified nation. 

While these bills had driven large-scale protests from the minorities, secularists, activists, environmentalists, educationalists, and students, the recent proposal from the Modi government had now stirred and triggered the unprecedented agitations from the farmers and opposition parties across the nation as the farmers have been protesting against the bills for over a week with the demand to the Center to revoke the bills. The peasants, who are often described as the backbone of the country, are now voicing against what they claim would affect their livelihoods and make them more vulnerable. What had pushed them to hold such a huge agitation and what's in the bills that it had irked them? 

Though the Central government has been pressing hardly that these bills would be empowering the farmers and generating more employment opportunities in the agricultural sector, the provisions that the bills carry would largely be inviting the corporate and private players to the market, letting them take a stronghold over farmers in determining how much they should be paid for their crops. The more-likely dominance from the corporates is the major factor why farmers occupied the spotlight of the nation through their agitation. 

The three bills - The Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, The Essential Commodities Act (Amendment) Bill, and Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce Act (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill and its provisions are the ingredients had now cooked large-scale agitations. As the farmers' protest, let's take a look at the bills and how it would go against farmers, 

1) The Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill - It proposes to make a contract farming agreement between buyers and farmers even before the latter sow the crops. The bill carries the provision to settle the disputes between the players and they can approach the conciliation board, sub-divisional magistrate, and appellate authority. Though the bill proposes to restore the disputes through these mechanisms, farmers would less likely have the wind in their direction.

  • As per the bill, the buyers and the company aren't mandated to make a written contract and agreement with farmers for any contract farming and the act legitimizes the violations as in the absence of the written agreement, the companies can take it granted and would violate the terms of the contract, leaving the farmers not having the grounds to prove the violation. 
  •  This bill doesn't carry the specification that the contract price of the crop must be equivalent or above the MSP (Minimum Selling Price) and it authorizes the buyer and companies to pay whatever price they want to the farmer and such contract farming would typically pay the low price than the MSP, leaving the farmers to lose their grip in demanding the minimum support price, which is one of the factors that instigated the agitation from the farmers. 
  • The bill won't carry any provision to penalize the buyers and companies, which do not register their contracts. With pouring the provisions favor for the buyers, the farmers would have to go to court to fight for justice, and they have to pay amid the financial distress. 

2) The Essential Commodities Act (Amendment) Bill - The bill would allow the Central government to regulate and stock the crops and food items in extraordinary circumstances and it would also empower the Center to impose stock limits if there is a spike in the price of crops. It may look like a visionary at the outset, but it would largely oppress the freedom enjoyed by the farmers. 

  • Peasants' won't have any restriction in producing, stocking, and selling the crop in the market so far. Having said that, farmers would take a decision of selling their crops only after they got a good price from the buyer and the market. However, this new bill would oppress the freedom of farmers in this regard as the government would be allowing the traders and companies to store as much quantity of food and crops as they want. 
  • Such provision would carpet the possibilities that the traders may be hoarding the crops under their control and would sell it at a higher price when the demand grows, which would further increase the inflation, and farmers and middle-class families are the ones who would majorly get affected through the rise of inflation. Through this bill, the government tends to refrain from preventing the hoarding of goods, which makes millions vulnerable. 
  • The farmers fear that they ought to go as per the buyers and traders and it would have no ground for price negotiations and the farmers would be pushed to agree the terms of the buyers and traders. They also fear that these new bills would increase unemployment in the agricultural sector and peseants would brace up the disparities. 

3) Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce Act (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill - the bill promotes the intra and inter-state trade of farmers produce beyond the limit of the Agricultural Produce and Livestock Market Committee (APMC). Currently, the farmers can approach the APMC officers and raise complaints against the traders and agents in the APMC Mandis if they encounter any illegal and unfair practices against the committee. 

  • As per the new bill, farmers are pushed to approach the magistrate court against the disputes from the traders and corporates. However, most of the farmers would refrain from approaching the courts due to the lack of awareness and financial distress. 
  • The government had asserted that the new bill pours freedom to the peasants. However, as per the bill, the traders and corporates are allowed to install their own markets to make a purchase from farmers and by quoting this bill, the traders and buyers would dictate the price for which farmers would have no option other than accepting the undeserved offer. Farmers fear that this provision would destroy the grounds of APMC markets and mandis. 
  • The government has rejected the demand of the farmers that such new markets would fall under the jurisdiction of local administrations and government. The farmers fear that by permitting the farming agreements and private players in the market, it would largely and interminably harm the small and marginal farmers across the nation. 
  • The factors of no guarantee over the MSP (Minimum Support Price), the favorable grounds for the corporates, limiting the mandis and advancing the private players had combinedly irked the farmers as the sequel of the controversies and government's mechanisms of pushing it as a law had driven the large-scale protests across the country. 

Farmers in the state of Punjab had sparked the agitation which has now emerged as the nationwide outrage as farmers and unions in many states have been demanding the Center to revoke the bill. The sequel of the proposals of bills had drawn massive criticism from the ruling NDA, with Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal had resigned from the Modi's cabinet against the implementation of the bills with the opposition parties are pressing the need for the nationwide call and protest against the Center to revoke the bills. The reason why farmers fear on the suppression of mandis can't be kept aside is the 'Bihar Experiment'. Bihar Experiment is a reminiscent of what could happen if the APMC mandis are replaced with the private markets. Till now, APMC would largely lead the farmers towards better price for their crops through a transparent auction mechanism. However, Bihar don't have such system currently as it has been replaced by private mandis, which are paying little for farmers than they bid.

According to reports, the private mandis have adverse effect on the growth of farmers. Last year, the prize of maize in Bihar stood at Rs 2,200 per quintal and it has now declined to Rs, 1,300 per quintal this year. Experts say that the Bihar Experiment hasn't worked and would no way work in favor of farmers.  However, these bills were passed in the Parliament and would become a law after the President gives his consent. As the final resort, the opposition parties, Punjab's Shiromani Akali Dal have been urging the President to pay heed to the demand of farmers by not giving his consent to enact the bills as law.