This is perhaps for the first time that the Narendra Modi government is facing sustained opposition at the ground level from the protesting farmers who are demanding the repeal of farm laws.
Many food soldiers including women farmers have died fighting for their cause during the ongoing agitation. Government has blinked and offered written assurance on MSP but it has failed to cut ice and an impasse continues. It is time the Centre does more to end the imbroglio before it gets further intensified.
Government calls the new farm laws “reforms” but the farmers think that these will kill notified markets because business will shift out of deregulated free markets.
The farmers fear that proposed electricity amendment bill 2020 would mean no power subsidy for farmers in near future. They also opine that pro-market laws will weaken the system of MSPs while heavy penalties for stubble-burning would not be fair to farmers as they have no economic alternatives.
Their other apprehensions are that private traders will have a free run with minimal regulation in free markets while big corporates may wrest control of farmer’s land if contract-farming conditions are not met.
Farmers also view new laws cleared by the government will weaken APMC Mandis and other smaller mandies. They also say that they would have no right to appeal in civil courts to resolve disputes.
As protests intensified in the aftermath of Bharat bandh, the Centre agreed to some amendments but did not accept the key demand to repeal the contentious farm laws.
The government offered to amend two farm-reform laws and a bill pending in Parliament in a bid to end protests, but farm unions stuck to their demand of repeal of the three legislations they say will hurt their livelihoods.
With negotiations locked in an impasse, a long battle looms with farm unions scaling up protests by blocking all highways into New Delhi and occupying toll plazas. The onus is now on the government to end the deadlock. So far the Centre has been harping on the benefits of the new laws while some leaders of the ruling party have vilified the agitators only to worsen the situation.
The farmers stand by the existing procurement system that has stood the test of time and view with mistrust any law that tinkers with this set-up.
The farming community was in the vanguard of the Green Revolution but is now grappling with indebtedness, diminishing profits and shrinking landholdings. Significantly despite farmers being pushed to poverty, agriculture was the only sector that registered growth even during the lockdown when the economy was hit hard.
The focus should be on strengthening this sector, which employs almost half of the country’s population, by finding an amicable solution at the earliest.