Farmers Are Fighting For Your Rights Too, Dear Indians

Citizens are expected to know the nuances of Bills, Laws and Acts that are introduced by their governments, especially if they are stifling rights.

For the many urban armchair, rich Tweeple, the current farmers’ agitation is a waste of time and resources and mostly, only rich farmers are participating. Are they thereby insinuating, if rich, farmers are not genuine? In contrast, many Sikh mothers were seen coming to Singhu borders to support our farmers. They made food, brought water and served us a sampling of rustic intelligence, explaining how we owe them the food we eat. This contrast is our today – while we need to support the farmers for our tomorrow, we take pleasure in deriding them. But then that is the basic political economics of these three farm bills — traders versus the farmers, that is the crux of the protests. The Bharatiya Janata Party has been traditionally supported by traders unlike the farmers, who are aligned to other parties. Then no surprise that the urban rich perceive that if farmers are not poor then they must be suspicious of them.

Stifling of rights

But the issue is not about rich or poor, but basically farmers. Now, there is one clause in this Farm Bill 2020, which shockingly says, “No suit, no prosecution or other leading proceedings shall lie against central government or state governments or any other officer of the central government, state government or any other person in respect of anything (corporations), which is done in good faith or intended to be done in good faith under this Act. No civil courts shall have jurisdictions to entertain any suits or proceedings in respect of any matter connected to the actions under this law.”

I am confident those actively tweeting against the farmers protesting are 100% clueless about this clause. P Sainath, the founder of People’s Archive of India (PARI) and the award-winning journalist in a video said, “Have you ever read laws like that in a democratic country? They are dismantling the right to the legal recourse of us all citizens. This includes consumers, dismantling our right to legal recourse. The Delhi Bar Council has written to the President of India a day prior to the bandh, saying this is an extremely dangerous move.”

Moreover, the manner in which the Central government brought in these three Acts is seen as unconstitutional by many. To begin with, Agriculture is a subject which is a responsibility of the states, but the BJP-led government tweaked it to give it powers over the states. Professor R Ramakumar (TISS) has called these laws unconstitutional. “These three Acts have been invoking section 33 of the concurrent list, to which 26 and 27 have been linked, this is a loophole. Entry 14 is a state subject; anything subsidiary is in the jurisdiction of the state governments since the APMCs and mandis fall under the state subject.”

Coming to the protests and the bandh was called by the Kisan Mukti Morcha, led by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, an alliance of various farmer bodies. They have demanded the government has to ensure one-time full loan waiver and other measures so that the farmers are not pushed into debt again. They also want the recommendations of Swaminathan Commission which specifically say the minimum support price (MSP) should be fixed at 50% above the comprehensive cost of production. In fact, as part of the 2014 Lok Sabha campaign, Narendra Modi had promised the farmers a complete loan waiver if his government were to be formed. He also had said the MSP would be 50% more than the agricultural input cost of the farmers.

A few days ago, the Akaal channel interviewed a farmer from Nashik, who was present at the protests and in simple language explained the importance of the APMC and MSP. Every morning he and other grape-producing farmers check on the prices of produce across the various APMCs in Chennai and other places where they get a good rate. Then they sell it to the highest bidder. The MSP is determined by the government for any crop the ‘government’ considers lucrative for farmers and hence deserving of support.

The other problem of doing away with the MSP is traders are more likely to hoard the produce. They can buy at a certain price and resell at higher prices too. This too we have seen time and again when the prices of dals and other vegetables have increased as the traders have hoarded and then rotten produce has been sold in the retail markets. None of these are mere allegations, that is the way traders have thrived. The farm-to-house rosy promise is not something that is going to come true. The fears are that this present government is favouring some private retail players who have a monopoly and forcing people to go to their markets.


An effigy of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and businessmen Gautam Adani and Mukesh Ambani was set on fire during a protest by farmers at Ranjit Avenue in Amritsar.
(Credit- Vishal Kumar)


Lockdown lessons

The pandemic has taught many lessons to both consumers and the farmers. During the lockdown, for six months starting from March, we have seen attempts made by citizens to source vegetables and fruits, directly from the farmers. It was tough for many farmers who ran into losses, as the trucks carrying these essential items were being stopped despite being exempted. The supply chains were badly hit without transport services and strict restrictions across the states. The farmers had to form their own chain of supply for this, which was no mean task. The APMCs too were not fully functioning all this while, adding to their losses. In Mumbai, the BMC arranged to sell fruits and vegetables in various maidans like the August Kranti, MMRDA and other playgrounds, where citizens could come and buy.

So far, the farmers have the APMCs which are marketing boards to help farmers sell their produce, depending on the states where these continue to exist. These are basically to ensure the middlemen, money lenders and traders do not exploit the farmers or force them to sell at extremely low rates. Now, four years ago, the Maharashtra government, during the time Devendra Fadnavis was the Chief Minister, had delisted fruits and vegetables from the purview of the APMCs, on the lines of Bihar, to allow them to sell their produce outside these mandis. But the farmers continued to sell at the APMCs. Most have criticised Sharad Pawar for the cooperatives and politicisation of the APMCs. Pawar has supported the protests and said their demands are valid. Immediately after Pawar extending his support, BJP supporters went into overdrive and circulated the letter of a 165-pages document wherein as Union Agriculture Minister, he had written to the late Sheila Dixit, the then CM of Delhi in 2010, asking to amend the APMC Act to allow privatisation. “….This requires huge investments in marketing infrastructure including cold-chain. And for this, private sector participation is essential, for which an appropriate regulatory and policy environment needs to be in place.” Like he asked the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan for the APMC Act to be amended, Pawar also had said, “private sector needs to play an important role in this regard”.


Like Pawar asked the Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan for the APMC Act to be amended, Pawar also had said, “private sector needs to play an important role in this regard”.


The pertinent point is, Pawar never asked to end the APMC, and also, at no point did he say to hand it all over to private players. Allowing privatisation in limited proportion is not a bad idea, limited being the keyword. Unfortunately, the reform bills have wholly handed it over to the private players, predictably. Currently, the APMCs settle the disputes between the farmers and traders, which the new bill says will be tackled by a ‘nodal officer’.

Citizens are expected to know the nuances of Bills, Laws and Acts that are introduced by their governments, especially if they are stifling rights. It is not about whose rights and these nuances are NOT obviously told by the University of WhatsApp and the innumerable fake videos and information spreading distorted news. Like the one letter pulled out of a 165-page document. I don’t expect overnight change, with citizens clamouring to learn about the rights of the farmers, but you know what? It doesn’t shock me anymore that citizens are NOT curious to be better learned about their rights.

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