WITH FARMERS refusing to accept the government’s proposal of amendments in the agri laws, some sections are saying that these amendments should have been offered at the beginning of the agitation in June, when it had not yet intensified. However, this perception belies the fact that ever since the decision of bringing the three ordinances was taken at a Union Cabinet meeting held on June 2, the farmers have been demanding their cancellation.
Even before the three agri ordinances, which were notified by the Centre on June 5 this year, came into being legally, farmer unions in Punjab had raised their banner of dissent against the three Bills since as early as June 4.
Letters and media releases procured from farmers unions from all of India, especially Punjab, revealed their two demands — cancellation of the Bills and making MSP legal — from the very beginning. These demands were not an afterthought.
BKU Ugrahan’s June 14 media release had clearly demanded repealing of these Bills, calling them “a step to destroy the small farmers, small shopkeepers, small traders, to damage the mandi system etc.” while the government is “preparing to run away from procurement”.
It also warned that “corporates will destroy agriculture” and called upon farmers and people to protest against these Bills.
A June 4 media release of BKU (Dakaunda), another of AIKSCC dated June 5 and a letter of AIKS dated June 4 under the name of AIKS president and general secretary Ashok Dhawale and Hannan Mollah, respectively, called it the BJP government’s move to “disempower farmers and allow corporates to take over agriculture”. It had demanded scrapping of the two ordinances on APMCs and contract farming and an amendment in the Essential Commodities Act.
They even burnt copies of the ordinances during the June 10 protest and asked the farmers to prepare for a relentless struggle.
The AIKS letter said: “The Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led BJP government’s Cabinet is silent on the huge losses in income suffered by farmers, agricultural workers and others involved with allied activities like fishing, sericulture etc. It has not come with any income support and loan waiver to help farmers and others in distress due to its unplanned Lockdown decision. The Cabinet decision to approve the Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020, and The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement On Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020, are against the federal principles and violates the rights of the state governments. The ordinances will put farmers at the mercy of agri businesses, large retailers and exporters. It further says that the APMC Acts were introduced in the 1960s and 1970s to put a check on the monopoly powers of large traders and big buyers who historically used their economic power and extra-economic means to buy grain from poor farmers at low prices. Although not always implemented effectively, the APMC Acts introduced a system of auctions which were designed to bring more competition in purchase of agricultural produce. Allowing the traders and big buyers to buy produce outside the notified mandis directly from farmers would mean that the produce would be purchased without auctions and through bilateral negotiations between large traders and poor peasants. Such a system would be inherently biased against the interests of farmers who will not get remunerative prices.”
It further said: “The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement On Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020, claims that it will empower farmers to engage with processors, aggregators, wholesalers, large retailers and exporters on a level playing field without any fear of exploitation. However, clearly the idea is at land consolidation and promotion of contract farming as well lease of farm land by corporate companies. The claim that the risk of market instability will be transferred from the farmer to sponsor points is baseless. Rather than empowering farmers it will eliminate them and aid the big landlords and agribusinesses to profit at their expense.
The amendment of Essential Commodities Act (ECA) will remove all regulation or controls on private players and agri businesses. Although agriculture is a State subject, the State Governments will have no control over these operations in future. AIKS condemns this move and calls upon State Governments also to take apposition against it.The BJP Government by bringing changes that will disempower farmers also audaciously insults the freedom struggle by claiming through India became free in 1947 farmers have become free only yesterday. AIKS demands scrapping of the two Ordinances and Amendment to the ECA.”
Regarding amendments to the Essential Commodities Act, the letter says that removing commodities like cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes from the list of essential commodities will emerge as a threat to food security. The ECA was the single most important Act to prevent hoarding of essential commodities, particularly at the time of crisis such as the present, amid a pandemic.
On MSP, it says, “no provision for price and wage guarantee in the Ordinance? AIKS demands enactment of a law for ensuring remunerative Minimum Support Price for all crops at C2+50% with guaranteed procurement and minimum wage of Rs 600/day to all agricultural workers.”
In a June 8 letter, the ‘Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee’, the most aggressive farm organisation in Punjab which had started its protests the very next day after the ordinances were discussed at the Union Cabinet meeting, wrote to the Prime Minister demanding an immediate rollback.
Following these initial letters, several reminders were sent to Centre and state government in June, July and August, and then 10 farm unions of Punjab, which were part of AIKSCC, wrote to the Centre and PM several times to repeal these Bills and assure full MSP for the crops.
“From the very beginning, our demand was to cancel these Bills and assure the MSP of all crops as government should make a law that farmers should get MSP from purchaser,” said Joginder Singh Ugrahan, president of BKU Ugrahan, which is continuously protesting ever since these ordinances turned Bills were brought jointly as well as individually at village district and state levels.
“We have never ever demanded amendments in the Bills, only their cancellation. We were initially protesting against these individually, later under the united front of 31 organisations and now under AIKSCC and Syunkat Morcha,” said Jgamohan Singh, general secretary, BKU Dakaunda.
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