Every section of society will get hit by the forced implementation of the new agricultural laws
The new laws have the potential to redefine Indian agriculture totally in areas of production, procurement, marketing, pricing, stocking and land ownership
Farmers across the country are agitating in a single voice for the complete rollback of the recently enacted farm laws. The new laws have the potential to redefine Indian agriculture totally in areas of production, procurement, marketing, pricing, stocking and land ownership. Serious discussions are being weighed in favour and against the possible implications on the existence and livelihood of our farmers; however, very little attention is being paid to their effects on the landless and agricultural labourers of India.
About 60 per cent of our population is engaged in agriculture and allied activities and any changes in production, marketing and food distribution directly impacts their welfare and livelihoods. Nearly 263 million are directly dependent on agriculture and the rest in agriculture-allied small industries such as brick-kilns, quarries and small cottage industries in the villages. Many also migrate to neighbouring towns and states as casual labourers during the non-agricultural seasons.
It is of interest to the vast landless population of the country to see how the current farm laws will affect the employment and livelihoods opportunities of the landless families. Out of the contentious three laws, The Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services, 2020 is going to have the most impairing repercussions for the landless agricultural labourers of the country.
The Union government is claiming that the law will smoothen access of agri-business firms, with retail super market chains entering into prior agreements with small farmers for production, pricing and purchase of agricultural products.
The second major element of the law is acquisition of land on lease from small farmers (possessing below 1.0 ha of land) and pool such plots to profitably cultivate in large farms with introduction of modern machinery & technology. The Niti Aayog, ever since its inception replacing the Planning Commission, is propagating and justifying the need of land-pooling. Since small farms are non-profitable, there is a necessity to go for corporate farming by paying small sums as annual lease to small farmers, it says. If this is implemented in spirit and with no land reform agenda on the horizon, the law will create large scale landlessness, unemployment and further impoverishment of rural India.
In reality, along with small farmers, the law has serious implications for the landless rural poor. As per the 2011 Census, there are 494.9 million (or 49.49 crore) landless individuals in Indian villages who are directly or indirectly dependent on cultivation for their livelihoods. In theory, they should find 170 days of employment in two crop cultivated areas, though the days they get actual employment comes down in practice. With large farms, modern technology and the use of heavy machinery for a majority of field operations, a large chunk of them are certain to lose employment with no rehabilitation prospects in sight.
In addition, according to Census 2011, around 1.2 crore or nearly 14% of the farming community are tenant farmers of share croppers, who perform their labour in fields owned by others. Their livelihood will also be threatened by the entry of corporates in the agricultural sector.
The amendments claim to provide a level playing field to both farmers and traders including agri-business firms, with retail super market chains parallel to the APMC market yards. Although APMC yards constitute only about 30 % of all purchases from farmers, they assure MSP for farmer produce. With the implementation of the new farm laws, private buyers will dominate the APMC mandis, thus denying small farmers assurance of selling their produce at MSP.
In Bihar after abolishing the APMC mandi structure in 2006, the Food Corporation of India (FCI) is out of the market and the small and tenant farmers are at the mercy of private traders and agri-business corporations, selling their maize produce at about 30% lower the government announced MSP. A small tenant farmer can never even think of bargaining a higher price with large corporations like Reliance or the Adani group and is in no situation to transport his produce to a far off city in expectation of a higher price under e-market network.
These days, farmers tend not to keep any portion of the crop produce for family consumption and generally sell the total produce in markets. Impoverishment of the rural population is so severe that a majority of them is dependent on the subsidized grain provided through the PDS. Most of these are landless farm workers & small farmers. The amendments in farm laws have made the disappearance of FCI a potential reality.
With purchases in APMC mandis at MSPs going out, agricultural crisis would further deepen and the government will be responsible for tampering with and privatizing the nation’s food security. On the other hand, with the role of FCI diminishing gradually, the beneficiaries of the PDS are also being left on the mercy of the vagaries of corporate controlled markets.
Eventually, the PDS will collapse and poor will be denied whatever ration they have been getting under Food Security Act. It is thus clear that barring the few crony capitalists close to the ruling party, every section of society will get hit due to the forced implementation of the new agricultural laws.
Thus, it is an imperative that all sections of society, be it farmers, agricultural labourers or small shopkeepers, comes out opposing the new agricultural laws and hold the Central government accountable for trying to jeopardize the country’s food security and putting millions and millions of lives at risk.
(The writer is General Secretary, Communist Party of India)