The many layers to agricultural discontent

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Context: The Farm Acts that are the focus of the farmers’ protest bear variously on the different strata of the farming community.

How farming distress is shared in common by the different strata?

  • The powerful farmers’ movements that sprouted across India from the 1970s, led by such iconic leaders as M.D. Nanjundaswamy, Sharad Joshi, and Mahendra Singh Tikait, which claimed to speak not merely for farmers but to the rural segment as a whole.
  • They presented a platform for discussion and debate beyond their immediate concerns.
  • The organisations have undergone much change. In some parts of the country the class and caste divide are still sharp, in other places, farmers’ organisations have not shied away from critically engaging with class, caste and gender concerns.
  • The very fact that a social reality is widely accepted provides space for policy intervention. The Farm Bills have ignored that the rural is a vibrant space in India, with ‘elective affinities’ binding its vast expanse.
  • The rich farmers have also reinforced their position enormously in the rural areas over the years after the Green Revolution and farmers’ movements of the 1970s.
  • They have also invested their surplus in agri-business and clearly hold access to the wider economic and institutional domains.
  • The lower strata of the farming community are invariably beholden to the rich farmer not merely for employment but also to access resources and services.

Why the Farm bills were introduced?

  • To double the income of India’s farmers by 2022.
  • To liberalise access to agricultural markets.
  • To remove existing barriers to storage of agricultural produce, and facilitating contract-farming.
  • The objective is to create ‘One Nation, One Market’, and promote ‘Ease of doing business’

What is the immediate response?

  • Organised farmers’ bodies and Opposition in Parliament offered strong resistance to these Bills.
  • Some State governments even enacted their own Bills.
  • The Shiromani Akali Dal, walked out of the alliance with NDA in protest against these Bills.

What are the key concerns?

  • Agrarian distress: piecemeal legislation and regulative processes have been put in place such as Pradhan Mantri yojanas but several key concerns of farmers have gone unattended.
  • States’ role: the issues affecting the farming community have a far greater bearing on the States relative to the Centre.
  • Lack of consensus building: The Centre extended little consideration to the sensitivity of the States.
  • Disparities: The three Acts bear differently on the different strata of the farming community and in different regions.
  • APMC as cushion: for instance, weakening the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) system and its resultant bearing on Minimum Support Price (MSP), particularly on crops such as rice and wheat is seen by the farmers as a threat to an assured sale of their produce at a price.
  • Procurement issues: Subjecting Procurement system to the vagaries of a competitive market, including storing and contracting of the produce, where he would eventually be beholden to the large players, including monopolies, are prospects that a farmer detests even though he is aware that the middleman is not a saint.
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