New Farm Acts: Better Late than Never

Politics in the name of farmers is a flourishing and beneficial trade for the politicians and dalals. Otherwise, there is no reason why no drastic changes have been brought in the agricultural policy of India for decades. The number of small and marginal farmers is rising with every passing year and the load on the agriculture sector is increasing day by day. The need, therefore, is not only to modernise agriculture but also to offload it as much as possible. There should not be any doubt left in anybody’s mind that the opposition to three new Farm Bills recently passed by both houses of Parliament is specious and it is being orchestrated and motivated, not by genuine farmers, but by those intermediaries whose interests are getting hurt. These politicians and middlemen have been reaping earning huge profits by fleecing the farmers and consumers. That was why there have been no takers for their protest marches and demonstrations organised on 25th September.
The three Bills, which have been attracting the attentions are: Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Protection and Facilitation Bill, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement and Price Assurance and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill but only two points which are being thrown by the opponents are the MSP( Minimum Support Price) and APMCs (Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees), which opponents say will wither away by these Bills, which have since become Acts. These Acts will facilitate and permit the farmers to sell theirs produces outside the Mandis (wholesale markets) regulated by Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees constituted by different state legislations. Many states have passed their own laws to mandate ‘agricultural trade’ through APMCs. Although the purpose of the APMCs was to ensure fair prices to be paid to the products of the farmers yet they have not only miserably failed in their objectives but have practically become the centres of corruption and the exploitation of the farmers.
Here are two examples, which I can cite with my own personal knowledge that how deep the corruption has gone down in in the APMC. There is one small wholesale grain market,(Mandi) in Kharkhoda in Panipat district of Haryana and another one that I am talking about is of the Azadpur vegetable and fruit Mandi of Delhi, which is considered to be one of the biggest Mandis of Northern India. Any person having even the elementary information about the functioning of these Mandis will vouchsafe that it is middlemen and profiteers with the help of the corrupt minions of Samiti, who rule the roost. Hundreds of trucks make a beeline every day particularly at Azadpur mandi to unload their produces but those who go through the intermediaries or by greasing the palms of the shenanigans of mandi they get priority, but others suffer and lose heavily. Moreover, if anyone wants immediate payment of the produces, he/ she has to cough up at least five per cent of the total amount to the rogues. But the new Act provides for the immediate payment. One can easily understand about those persons, who are standing against the new Acts. Farmers and consumers have been the ultimate losers till now which the new Acts will ensure that they are no longer exploited.
These Acts permit the electronic trading of their produces. With heavy teledensity, the farmers are now well connected, and they can sell theirs produces online, which was well-nigh impossible in the APMCs. However, the government has not completely done away with APMCs, they will continue to co-exist along with new arrangements. Minimum Support Price will not be the part of the Acts, as it exists even today, but that will continue to be announced by the government for different crops from time to time. Thus, we find that APMCs will not have suffocating dominance, which they have in the present circumstances. Therefore, it is abundantly clear that the bogey of the MSP and APMCs, is being created more by non-farmers than by farmers but that too is unfounded. The new laws unshackle the farmers and give them the freedom to sell their products anywhere in India.
Farming, to say the least, is not an attractive occupation. Nearly fifty per cent of farmers want to move out of it because it is becoming non-remunerative. Farm sizes are getting smaller day by day. The number marginal farmers have gone up in the last few decades and their condition is getting pathetic and is no better than those of the farm labourers. Tiny farms are the big hindrances in the modernization of agriculture. So, the contract farming will provide the good impetus for the modernization of the agriculture and the new Acts seek to encourage them but that will not be binding for the farmers as they will have the freedom to opt into or out of it. Recently Harsimrat Kaur Badal wife of Akali leader Sukhvinder Singh Badal resigned from the Union cabinet of ministers opposing the new farm laws. Shri Badal has written an article in a newspaper, where he has simply expressed his fear that it will lead to corporatization. The farmers will get a good price to their yields for a few years and thereafter they will be exploited by the corporates. He has, however, given no reason or logic in favour of his contentions. He has forgotten the fact that the establishments of E-chaupals and E-procurement centres will go a long way in removing the roles of middlemen.
The Essential Commodities Act was enacted decades ago to stop hoardings, but it has essentially hurt the farmers. They were not protected if the prices of potatoes or onions fell because they were prevented from taking them to other places for obtaining higher prices. Warehousing is so essential for the storage of the produces but that cannot be built by the farmers of small landholdings, so again the need for the contract farming hardly needs to be emphasized.
Be that as it may, these new farms acts, therefore, must be welcomed with open arms as they will remove the dominant roles of middlemen who have been holding the farmers to ransom without any qualms and compunction.