The farmers’ protest in India: what’s it all about?

farmer protest

The farmers’ protest in India has been on-going for two months – and with more than half of Indians working on farms, this is a big concern, and a huge national affair.

Initially it started as a regional protest in Punjab and Haryana. However, it soon turned out to be a national one with farmers declaring “Delhi Chalo” (translatable into English as “Let’s go to Delhi”), the capital of India and where the Prime Minister and President live. The farmers believe that a direct negotiation with the government can end their dilemma.

The farmers have been pouring into Delhi from Punjab and Haryana since 26 November 2020. To disrupt their march towards the nation’s capital, the authorities deployed police, who tried very hard to stop the farmers at various borders and entry-points into Delhi. The farmers faced water cannons, tear gas shells and violence on their way to – and even in – Delhi. The protests intensified resulting in the opening of the borders. 

The reasons behind the protests

The protests find their backdrop in the 2017 Model Farming Acts, which in reality, were hardly implemented by various states. In July 2019 a committee was set up to discuss the reasons behind the lack of implementation. The result of the meetings was three ordinances, which were passed by the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, and gained the consent of the President of India. This converted the laws into acts on 28 September 2019. And the two months long protest initiated. 

farmers India

The three laws 

The three laws that snatched away the farmers’ confidence in the government are:

(1) The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act 2020. 

(2) The Farmer’s (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act 2020. 

(3) Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020 

The Act in Details

  1. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act 2020: This essentially promoted the creation of an ecosystem where the farmers and traders can enjoy the freedom of choice relating to sale and purchase of farmers’ produce which facilitates remunerative prices through competitive alternative trading channels. It also sought to promote efficient, transparent and barrier-free inter-State and intra-State trade and commerce of farmers’ produce outside the physical premises of markets or deemed markets notified under various State agricultural produce market legislations. Finally, it looks to provide a facilitative framework for electronic trading.
  2. The Farmer’s (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act 2020: The aim of this act is to provide for a national framework on farming agreements that protects and empowers farmers to engage with agri-business firms, processors, wholesalers, exporters or large retailers for farm services and sale of future farming produce at a mutually agreed remunerative price.
  3.  Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020This Act allows the centre to regulate food items through essential commodities. It underlines the need to impose the stock limit as dependent on the rise in prices. 
farmers protest tent

The problems

  1. The corporates will have an upper hand: Initially farmers operated through APMC (Agriculture Produce Market Committee) mandis. According to the new law, electronic trading is allowed. The government shall refrain from collecting market fee, cess or levy for trading outside of the mandis. This might force the government to see no profit in maintaining the mandi system. Hence, the government might do away with it altogether giving corporates the upper hand. 
  2. The monetary insecurities: The second act allows the farmers to directly liaise with big companies. The farmers can now directly sell their produce to the big names in the market. But if they fail to meet the demands of the companies, the farmers shall be liable to bear the financial burnt of pay back.  

Demands

The farmers have an array of demands. The repealing of the acts tops the chart, with other notable demands being: providing security that the state will procure their farm produce by implementation of the older procurement systems; implementation of the Minimum Sale Price (MSP) which will help the farmers to make minimum profits even if the open market allows a lesser price than the cost incurred; reducing the price of diesel by 50% for agricultural purposes; revoking the fines for stubble burning; and releasing the imprisoned comrades of Punjab—who had been arrested for burning paddy. They also demand the abolishment of the Electricity Ordinance of 2020. 

This farmer’s protest is not, by any means, over yet.

Amrita DasGupta is a SOAS Digital Ambassador and is completing a PhD in the Centre for Gender Studies at SOAS.

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