Farmers: If private sector is ready to pay prices higher than MSP, why not make this floor price mandatory ?
If the Government is confident that the new laws will ensure that farmers will get higher prices, what stops it from making non-payment of the ‘Minimum’ Support Price illegal and punishable?
As farmers in Punjab and Haryana hit the streets demanding a law to guarantee Minimum Support Price, three video clips were widely shared by them. In one of them three young children around the age of five could be seen playing on a roof top. They were playing ‘agitation-agitation’ and raised slogans of ‘Kisan Union Zindabad’ and ‘Modi Sarkar Murdabad’, raising their little fists in the air. Two other clips showed NRIs from Punjab demonstrating in Surrey (UK) and in Canada in support of farmers back home. The surreal clips had jean and suit clad Punjabis in SUVs, decked up with flags, raise slogans against the legislations ‘bulldozed’ through Parliament by the Government to hand over agriculture trade to the private players.
In the clip from UK, the Punjabi song playing in the background was direct and belligerent. “Delhi Sarkar, if someone claims our fields, we will destroy everything; if farmers are wronged, the hands which hold farm implements, will take up guns.” The mood was equally belligerent in Punjab this week when 31 Kisan Unions turned down an invitation for a dialogue with the Union Agriculture Secretary in New Delhi on Thursday. Such a dialogue, they reasoned, would serve little purpose because bureaucrats would give them a hearing and give an assurance that their points of view would be conveyed to the PMO and the Union Cabinet. “Dialogue”, the Unions said, should be with the Prime Minister and the Agriculture Minister, who had pushed through the legislation without taking the farmers into confidence. “They pushed through the Bills without consulting us and now want a dialogue with bureaucrats,” fumed an irate farmer. Since the Government, they said, is confident that farmers will get higher and more competitive prices from private traders, why can’t they bring in an Ordinance to guarantee that no agriculture produce would be sold anywhere below the MSP? Farmers point out that while the Government promulgated the three farm ordinances in June this year, and followed it up with clearing the Bills through Parliament in September, wholesale agriculture prices have hovered below the MSP. In the case of even wheat and rice, the two crops that are principally procured by the FCI, only 25% of the produce are procured at MSP while the remaining 75% are invariably sold at lower prices. With procurement and MSP both gone, they apprehend that prices would settle at rates determined by large corporate entities like the Reliance or the Adani Group. Another apprehension is that the corporate entities will come up with complicated contracts with fine prints and conditions that would work to the advantage of corporates and to the detriment of farmers.
There are clearly few takers for the Union Government’s assurance that the laws will bring prosperity to the peasants and double their income. Farmers who have relied on the Mandis and Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees to sell their produce till now are apprehensive that with the Government gradually withdrawing from the market, the Mandis will disappear though the laws specifically say nothing of the kind.
Raghunath Singh, a Sangrur based farmer leader, told National Herald that this would render lakhs of people, directly or indirectly associated with the Mandis, jobless. The traditional Ahrtiya system will collapse and one set of middlemen would be replaced by another set of middlemen, says Bashambhar Das from Gurdaspur.
Sarabjit Singh Lehra from Patiala fears that the new laws will ruin small farmers with small land-holdings. “How can a small farmer store his produce? He will not have access to storage facilities which will force him to sell his produce at the time and price decided by private buyers,” he added. The distrust is so deep that Amar Singh, a Morinda based farmer, is convinced that companies after signing contracts with farmers will harass them, taking advantage of the absence of any regulatory mechanism provided in the laws.
There is huge disappointment and fear of losing out on the Minimum Support Price. Saudagar Singh, a farmer of Yamunanagar, feels that farming is no more profitable and if the MSP is also withdrawn, farmers will not survive. With the laws doing away with restrictions on hoardings, private players with deep pockets will make farmers dance to their tune. Consumers would also pay higher prices because of hoarding, he said. Several farmers like Pankaj Kamboj from Karnal believe strongly that buying agricultural produce at lower than MSP should be made a punishable offence.
Punjab Chief Minister Capt. Amarinder Singh and former Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda have both spoken out against the laws. While the Punjab CM says the anti-farm laws have generated “ deep resentment and unrest” in the border state, Hooda has gone on record to say, “The Government must ensure that no purchases are made below the MSP. The government could bring in a fourth ordinance separately to provide a clear provision that if any agency buys the crops from farmers below the MSP, then legal action will be taken against it.”