Why are the Farmers Protesting?
In the monsoon session 2020, amidst stiff opposition, three farm bills were passed in the Indian Parliament -
1. Farmers Produce Trade And Commerce Bill (seeks to provide an ecosystem where the farmers and traders enjoy the freedom to sell and purchase the Farmers Produce),
2. Farmers Agreement of Price Assurance & Farm Services Bill (seeks to provide a national framework to do contract farming and market the produces freely) and
3. Essential Commodities Amendment Bill (seeks to remove commodities like cereals, pulses, oils, onion and potatoes from the list of essential commodities).
It's been 11 months since the farmers have been protesting against the three contentious laws at the Delhi borders, but the government seems to be firm about its decision. In fact, the ministers and the government representatives have time and again raised the question- "Why are the Farmers protesting?" while trying to convince the public, how these three farm laws will help strengthen the basic farm sector infrastructure through more significant private investments, which will improve farm incomes and attract more investments and thus increase productivity. Perhaps the Modi government has forgotten how the bills were passed in the parliament through a rather undemocratic means that undoubtedly represented a decline in the culture of legislative scrutiny- The Voice Vote.
Was the mere frequency of "AYE'S" enough to decide the fate of India's farmers?
Farmers-the so-called ''stewards'' of agriculture. They are the ones who nourish and protect farm produce, the ones who are the reason that each day we have food on our tables, praising these farmers for their hard work and dedication, Guru Gobind Singh Ji said-
ਜੱਟ ਪੰਜਾਲੀ ਚੱਕ
ਗੁਰੂ ਕਾ ਹਕ
ਕਮਾਇ ਕੇ ਛੱਕ
(A farmer lifts the plough, earns the guru’s charity and distributes it before eating.)
That, my dear friends, reflects how selfless the farmers are-They distribute before eating. Even the Sanskrit scriptures mention the importance of farmers in our society-
सुवर्णरौप्यमाणिक्यवसनैरपि पुरिताः ।
तथापि प्रार्थयन्त्येव कृषकान् भक्ततृष्णया ॥
This means that even after having all the world's riches, we are dependent on farmers for food. And today, as they protest against the three contentious laws, it's disturbing to hear that the Anadatta of this country is being called- Urban Naxalite, Khalistani, Parjivi, Andolanjivi, and what not? I am reminded of Padam Shri Surjit Patar Ji’s words-
ਨਹੀਂ ਕੰਮ ਥਕਾਉਂਦਾ ਬੰਦੇ ਨੂੰ, ਬੰਦੇ ਨੂੰ ਥਕਾਉਂਦਾ ਬੇਕਦਰੀ ਏ
ਇਹ ਦੁੱਖ ਉਸੇ ਬੇਕਦਰੀ ਦਾ, ਇਹ ਸਲ ਉਸੇ ਅਪਮਾਨ ਦਾ ਏ
ਇਹ ਬਾਤ ਨਿਰੀ ਏਨੀ ਹੀ ਨਹੀਂ, ਨਾ ਇਹ ਮਸਲਾ ਸਿਰਫ ਕਿਸਾਨ ਦਾ ਏ
The farmers are not just protesting for themselves, but for all of us, to ensure that the- Roti does not become a commodity of the market. The grain is not confined to the vault of rich ones. And that the prices don't decide on the hunger in the country.
India, my dear friends, is an agricultural country. Agriculture and farming are the primary sources of livelihood for more than 80% of people in rural India. However, from low productivity to fragmented land holdings, lack of storage infrastructure to crop failure, high indebtedness to farmers suicides- there's been persistent agrarian distress in our country. And what the government has recently introduced as a solution to these problems would actually add to the misery of farmers. That is why thousands of farmers have been protesting across the country and camping at several Delhi border points since 26th November last year demanding-
1. A Legal Assurance that MSP System will continue at APMC and private mandis- since it guarantees an assured income for the farmers of Punjab and Haryana, where the procurement of Wheat and Paddy ranges around 75-80%, that's why the farmers of these states are more vocal!
However, the MSP system is politically sensitive and financially unviable for the government since it is one of the world's costliest government procurement programs. MSPs have seen a consistent increase making the FCI pay more for the farm produce and bear more losses which further puts pressure on the fiscal deficit in the annual budget. This is the reason why every government in the last few decades have tried to find a way out.
2. Withdrawal of the three laws that deregulate the crops' sale- because a similar Trade Commerce Bill was adopted by England, America and Europe, but failed around the 1960s, as it loosened the rules around the sale, pricing and storage of farm produce, leading to declining agricultural marketing. American farmers have been literally pulling through the subsidy offered by the USA government.
Henceforth the government should take in mind that if a strategized structure of the Farm Act did not work well in the so-called "Developed Countries", how will it function in a diverse country like ours, where agriculture employs millions of people?
I agree that there are leakages in the current system and that there's a dire need for a pragmatic, realistic and holistic approach to be adopted by the policymakers to address the maladies faced by India's farmers, but it is only possible- when the government resumes talks with the protesting farmers. Replacing one failed model with another cannot be the only option, right?
In the end, I’m leaving you all with these words by Sheed-e-Azam Sardar Bhagat Singh-
“आजादी के मायने यह नहीं होते कि सत्ता गोरे हाथों से काले हाथों में आ जाए, यह तो सत्ता का हस्तांतरण हुआ. असली आजादी तो तब आएगी जब-
वह आदमी, जो खेतों में अन्न उपजाता है, भूखा नहीं सोए
वह आदमी, जो कपड़े बुनता है,नंगा नहीं रहे
वह आदमी, जो मकान बनाता है, स्वयं बेघर नहीं रहे!”