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Farm Bills threaten to undo work of generations of farmers, policymakers

These pieces of legislation attempt to weaken the most important constituent of the country’s economy – its agriculture sector.

December 15, 2020 8:04:00 pm
Protesting farmers near Ladowal toll plaza in Ludhiana. (Express photo: Gurmeet Singh)

Written by Ramesh Chennithala

History will judge the two terms of the Narendra Modi government as being a wasted majority; a government which muzzled people’s opinion and cracked down on dissent. The potential for development provided by a majority in Parliament was frittered away in infighting and the persecution of students, Dalits, minorities, farmers, artists, intellectuals and just about anyone who criticised the regime.

The government’s three farm bills are nothing short of an attack on everything that this great nation stands for. In the first place, they are a planned attack on the federal structure of the Constitution. The bills are an effort – not yet successful — to undermine the powers of the state governments. They are a thinly-veiled attempt to undermine the federal spirit of the nation.

These pieces of legislation attempt to weaken the most important constituent of the country’s economy – its agriculture sector. They are part of a well-designed plan to destroy the livelihoods of millions of small and marginal farmers and turn them into agricultural labourers.

This is also a step to destabilise the country’s food security and expose it to the vicissitudes of the international foodgrain market. These pieces of legislation will undo the hard work of generations of farmers, policymakers and the political leadership, which endeavoured to make the country self-sufficient in foodgrains. The Modi government’s efforts would place the food security of the nation at the mercy of global markets and corporate interests.

Over the last two months, the PM, a host of ministers and even the so-called media houses have consistently defended the bills as beneficial to and a game-changer for the country’s agriculture sector and farmers. However, one thing which the government fails to answer is: If these pieces of legislation are indeed designed to benefit the farmers, why were the states not taken into confidence and no effort was made to reach out to the farmers when the ordinances were promulgated in June? Why did the government promulgate an ordinance at a time when the nation — and the whole world — was reeling under the COVID-19 pandemic and everyone was putting their best foot forward to help each other?

With scant respect for all democratic norms, the Bills were presented and passed without debate in the Monsoon Session. The suggestion by the Congress and other Opposition parties to refer the bills to a parliamentary select committee was not even considered. What was the hurry, prime minister? Did the government have a hidden agenda?

This government’s constant encroachment on the legislative domain of state governments has been further manifested in the agricultural bills. The sanctity of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, which places agriculture and agricultural markets in the State List, has been breached. The founding fathers of the Constitution knew well that for a vast and diverse country like India, no central law for agriculture can be successfully implemented without the active participation of and leading role for the states. From types of soil to food habits, from agricultural practices to trading norms, every region and pocket of this large country is distinct, and had evolved to suit that particular region and its people.

The measures adopted by Congress state governments now to circumvent, and to a large extent nullify, the Central law underline the spirit of the nation. Congress governments in the Centre and states have always been committed to ensuring the livelihood of farmers. The party has also been committed to securing and protecting the interests of farmers and all others engaged in agriculture and related activities. Even when in Opposition, Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan has been our slogan while we spearheaded struggles on the streets and in legislative bodies.

The realities of every state are different; what is suitable for Kerala may not be the best for Haryana, similarly, what is demanded by the farmers of Punjab and Rajasthan may not be best suited to Maharashtra. Why does the Centre want to appropriate regulatory powers in agriculture, and at whose behest?

Apart from violating the federal structure, threatening the agricultural sector and food security of the country, these bills are a part of a ploy to open up Indian farmlands for exploitation and profiteering by domestic moneybags and international corporate players. Removal of restrictions on marketing farm produce, allowing cultivators to engage with private companies to sell their crops, and contract farming will deal a deathblow to traditional farming practices. We shall end up aligning our grain price and availability with the power play of demand and supply in the global market, which will ultimately hurt the small and marginal farmers and traders.

When the Modi government hogged the media limelight in its last tenure by trumpeting its plan to double agricultural income, little did the country know that these plans would include bulldozing the farm bills and precipitating unrest. The concerted effort of the regime to allow the backdoor entry of business houses into agriculture at the cost of small and marginal farmers is a massive scam which will surely be uncovered in future.

The writer is a senior Congress leader and Leader of the Opposition, Kerala

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