By Dr Somu
The response to the call for Bharat bandh by Samyukt Kisan Morcha — an umbrella body of over 500 farmers’ organisations was over whelming. It was from one and all across the country. In almost all major cities, there was a deserted look as shops and markets remained shut, rail and public transport were disrupted. Left and other all political parties (except BJP), array of trade unions, students, teachers, youth, dalits and women organisations took to the streets and as part of Chakka Jam and blocked national and state highways. Huge success of Bharat bandh boosted the spirit of lakhs of farmers protesting for the last 13 days at various borders of Delhi.
Huge success of Bharat bandh also busted the myth propagated by the ruling BJP and its supporters that the farmers’ protests are mainly localised in Punjab and Haryana, and that most farmers in the country are in favour of these laws.
Huge success of Bharat bandh all over the country and the tremors of protest developed into a quake has shocked the ruling NDA government. Union home minister Amit Shah stepped in and hurriedly invited 15 farmers’ organisations for talks on the same day evening. However, Amit Shah’s meeting with representatives of protesting farmer leaders on December 8, 2020, evening failed to resolve the deadlock over the farm laws.In this meeting with Amit Shah farmer leaders rejected the government’s offer to amend new farm laws and stuck to their demand for repeal of the laws.
On December 9, in the afternoon, government sent 13 proposals to amend the controversial three laws that mainly include a written assurance on continuing the Minimum Support Price (MSP), authorising state governments to allow mandis (market yards), and discourage takeover of farmers’ land by big corporates. But the farmers are firm with their demand that the farm laws should be repealed. After a thorough discussion protesting farmer organisations rejected the government’s proposals to white wash the three anti-farmer and pro-corporate laws and unanimously decided to continue the protests more vigorously demanding total rollback of the thee laws. The sixth round of meeting scheduled on December 9 with government has been called off as farmer leaders refused to attend it.
It appears that the ‘guaranteed MSP’ promise is to lure bigger farmers away from joint struggle pushing the smaller farmers into isolation. But the Samyukt Kisan Morcha declared that it was against any attempt to divide the farmers and would always stand united.
Meanwhile, opposition parties, on the other hand, met President Ram Nath Kovind on December 9.
The major problem with so called ‘guaranteed-MSP’ proposal of the government is that the three ordinances that were turned into laws do not even mention MSP. Therefore, private companies are still free to buy from farmers, and that too at lower rates. Hence, purchases made through the mandi system will go down. “And if there is fall in government purchases, the authorities will find an excuse to shut down the mandi system by claiming losses,” declares speaker after speaker at the protest sites.
Already during the last two months after controversial bills were enacted in Parliament and storage limits were removed for grain, potatoes, vegetable oils under the Essential Commodities Act, Adani group has acquired 100 acres of land at Noltha village near Panipat in Haryana just 110 km from Delhi. The firm is actively constructing godowns, transport, even railway tracks to facilitate its planned mandi trade. It is learnt the group is planning to construct 900 such similar sites across the nation for storage grain and other non-perishable farm produce to assist its retail trade. Hence, interestingly ‘Ambani-Adani’ has become a catch-phrase at Singhu border. The names of these two companies are now synonymous with corporate control over farmers and rural India.
This idea of corporate takeover, exemplified by two of India’s most powerful conglomerates, has become a major rallying point for the farmers. Every speaker who gets on the stage warns farmers that whether big or small, if companies take over agriculture and the mandi system, they will start dictating what price they can sell their crops at.
Such fears are arising from their experiences. Even before the three laws were passed in September, for example, when Pepsi was entering in contracts with lakhs of farmers in Punjab for supply of potatoes and tomatoes for its chips and ketch up business, farmers started growing these, but they had to sell them at very low prices while potatoes destroyed the land fertility. Farmers at protest site claim that the agri-business corporation always paid much lower prices to those agreed upon and also defaulted payments stretching into several instalments, with long gaps in between.
A similar situation is being experienced by farmers in Brazil, Mexico and Peru who unknowingly entered into agreements for supply of bananas, soyabeans and maize to major MNCs — Walmart and Cargill. For the last one week small farmers and farm workers in Peru are agitating against unfair pricing system practised by the above agri-business corporations.
From the following table (according to Agmark Data: https://agmarknet.gov.in/Price and Arrivals/ Datewise Commodity Report.aspx) it can be seen how mandis have been degraded of late and prices of farm produce is falling just two months after enactment of the controversial marketing act. For example, in Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the farmers are getting Rs 900 to 1,100 as against the Rs,1,800 per quintal of MSP announced by the government. If they make mandis private, the Adanis and Ambanis will buy even below Rs1,100 per quintal and prices will crash in states in Punjab and Haryana too.
Using same Agmarknet, the government’s price information system, which sources price and quantity arrival data collected from around 300 wholesale mandis across the country Wire network recently estimated that farmers on average were denied at least Rs 1,881 crore by having to sell their produce below the MSP in October and November, soon after enactment of controversial agri-marketing laws. Noted Marxist economist Karl Kautsky terms this outflow of rural surplus to urban capital as ‘market price disequilibrium’. The devaluation of mandis is inherent in the new laws, and hence, there is the fall in farmers’ returns.
Therefore, various farmer organisations are demanding MSPs for all crops and the clause to make it payable to farmers by any buyer should be legally enshrined in a law. The successive governments have kept raising MSPs from time to time. The problem arises when the calculations of MSPs are flawed since they don’t consider sky rocketing costs of fertilisers, diesel, tenant rent and other inputs. Besides the cultivation costs are calculated based at 2006 rates, totally overlooking the present costs. Besides, the current MSPs, though claimed to be following the Prof Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations, in reality, do not take into account the current cost of cultivation, family labour and tenancy rent. Hence, the farmers’ organisations are demanding calculation of MSPs in true spirit of the formula suggested by Prof Swaminathan Commission. (IPA Service)