Even as farmers in Punjab and Haryana are taking to the streets to protest the passage of two farm reform laws, some of their counterparts in Maharashtra will be doing exactly the opposite. The farmer’s union founded by noted farmer leader Sharad Joshi, Shetkari Sanghtana, is planning to hit the streets on September 25 in support of the legislations which, according to the outfit, are long overdue.
On Sunday, the Rajya Sabha passed two ordinances announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in June. The bills aim to bring about structural reforms in the agriculture sector, in terms of agricultural marketing, by allowing free trade outside the purview of Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees (APMC) by amending the Essential Commodities Act (which does away with the government’s power to impose stock limits or impose trade restrictions like export ban) and streamline contract farming with regard to the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020.
Farmers and farm leaders have expressed grave concerns over the first Bill, which they claim is a roundabout way to eliminate procurement of wheat and paddy under the minimum support price (MSP) programme. Last year, farmers in Punjab and Haryana had sold wheat and paddy worth over Rs 80,000 crore under Food Corporation of India (FCI). The protests by farmers also led Shiromani Akali Dal leader and Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal to resign from the Cabinet.
However, back in Maharashtra, farm organisations have welcomed the bills from the first day. Former MP Raju Shetti had welcomed the move but asked for a mechanism to prevent farmers from being cheated by fly-by-night operators. Shetti, who is part of the All India Kisan Sangharsha Sammitee (AIKSS), the umbrella body of over 200 farmer organisations, on Sunday issued a statement criticising what he called “corporatisation” of the farm sector.
But Anil Ghanwat, president of Shetkari Sanghtana, called the move a “landmark reform” in the sector, which will help farmers gain financial independence.
Ghanwat told The Indian Express that the farmers’ organisation decided to support the legislations as they were aimed at helping farmers. He said the fear expressed by farmers in other states was unfounded. “This will allow farmers to become real owners of their produce. Barring the mandis, the present system did not present any other avenue to offload produce. Now, it is expected that as the private sector comes into the picture, farmers will have more than one market to choose from,” he said.
In Maharashtra, Ghanwat pointed out MSP operations were few and far between. He also said growers of soybean, urad, moong, toor, which are the main crops in the state, sold bulk of their produce at the mandis. “The condition is the same in most states — only 10 per cent farmers in the country are able to sell a substantial quantity of their produce under MSP and they are the ones who have hit the streets,” he said.
Ghanwat said the new laws will also lead to private players investing in rural infrastructure. He claimed that the protests had “invisible” forces which did not want the present system to be disturbed, “We have already spoken to protesting farmers in Punjab, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh, and we were able to convince them of our view,” he said.
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