Government efforts to assuage distraught farmers regarding the benefits of the new farm bills have largely fallen on deaf ears due to the existing trust deficit
For having interlaced lies and secret agendas of communalism and crony capitalism all along, the credibility of the present regime is deeply dented. Therefore, notwithstanding their reassurances, the agitating farmers apprehend that the Bhasmasur-hand, that has been scorching every institution and sector, has now been laid on agriculture.
Although 'Time' magazine has named the PM among the 100 influential people in the world in 2020, he was described with a stinging note about his communalism and anti-pluralism, for using the pandemic to stifle dissent, and pushing a vibrant democracy deeper into the shadows. However, the magazine has missed out on the point that, like how CAA, etc., were bulldozed in pursuit of a religious right-wing agenda, privatisation is being pursued consistently for the promotion of crony capitalists. It is for this reason, and for not consulting them, that the farmers, including the RSS-affiliated unions, who had voted in millions twice, are now up in arms against the Government.
Nonchalantly they rescinded from their canny promise in 2014 to implement the recommendations of Dr MS Swaminathan Commission within 12 months of their coming to power. They even stated to the court that implementation of MSP based on the comprehensive cost of production (COP), that includes expenses on seeds, fertiliser, pesticides, etc., plus 50 per cent of the COP, was not feasible because it would lead to distortion of market prices. However, later, in 2018, the finance minister stated that it was already implemented for the rabi crop and would be done for kharif as well. But, the trick played was that like their dubious calculation of GDP to falsely project a higher growth rate, the definition of COP was altered to include only a few of the parameters considered in the formula of Swaminathan Commission, leading to a loss of Rs 800 per quintal to the farmer. Not only did it continue in the following years, but even stale figures of expenditure inputs of the previous year were also reused to decide the MSP this year too. The farmers feel comprehensively duped and are now seriously suspicious of the Government's claim that the farm laws are revolutionary and reformatory. It is for several reasons.
Although ordinances are promulgated only on very urgent matters, even knowing that the results would not be instant, the agri-ordinances were brought in extraordinary haste during the pandemic. The only plausible answer appears to be that it was to avoid consultation with farmers, and also with state governments which have legal jurisdiction over many of these provisions, and to duck scrutiny. Further, when the laid down procedures of the Parliament require that even if a single MP demands to vote on a bill, it has to be agreed to, voting on these bills, and also voting on referring them to a select committee, were not allowed even when the entire opposition demanded it. And instead, they were declared passed by voice vote after switching off the live transmission, the obvious reason for this collusive and undemocratic action being that the Government could not muster numbers in the RS. An obliging President approved the laws despite deliberate procedural violations.
As regards the merits, it is said that apart from liberating the farmers from the monopoly of corrupt APMCs to make them enterprising, FCI would also no longer be able to add to the piled up stocks of 60 million tonnes of food grains and run the risk of rats and rotting. And further, that corporatisation would generate competition while contract farming would bring in security.
While no one can deny that there are ills of corruption in APMCs, the ground reality is that the majority of farmers side-step them to have informal pre-contracts with businessmen, commission agents, etc., and farmers' groups dictate the deals. Government procurement acts as a support system.
Farmers argue that with small holdings of less than 2 acres for over 60 per cent of them, and less than 5 acres for 86 per cent, and also due to inadequate literacy to use e-commerce, they cannot explore distant markets for better profits. Since they also cannot hold their stocks for long, for the reason that they need to use the sale proceeds to repay loans, run their kitchens, and invest in the next crop, they would have to be at the mercy of markets controlled by multinational agribusinesses and corporates. Further, in contract farming, the agreements would be between two unequal. They are thus upset that Amendments moved, to ensure that the price offer would not be below the declared MSP for each produce, and for providing a legal guarantee in case of contract farming, were dumped in the game of voice vote.
Corporate farming, which otherwise helps in mass production, may be successful in the US, Australia, etc., where land is available in plenty. But, in India, mechanical farming by the corporates would displace crores of small and marginal farmers and their families whose holdings are leased out; they even need to buy vegetables and milk. They, along with the large segment of the workers of agri-dependent handlooms, handicrafts, carpentry, leather products, etc., would be forced to seek work elsewhere as migrants.
Non-state monopoly is being promoted to generate competition in market-driven agriculture. Bihar experience proves that after the mandi system was abolished in 2006, no giants have come forward with alternatives, and the farmer gets only Rs 900 per quintal of paddy, while it fetches Rs 1,700-1,800 for those elsewhere.
The reality is that Indian corporates, primarily the crony capitalists, do not relish the idea of competition; they endeavour to grow and expand using their nexus with the Government. Similarly, the Government goes soft in recovering public money from the NPAs of several such top businessmen. They do not feel any social responsibility even, as seen in their profiteering in the health sector, and sale of computers at much higher prices when students needed them for online classes, during the pandemic. With several liberties being extended to the crony capitalists from the native state of the PM, as far as corruption is concerned, as a parliamentarian said, rohu and katla of APMCs are being replaced with deadly sharks.
But, no questions will be asked as long as the weapons of inducement and intimidation are in the hands of the Government. Higher institutions like EC, CAG, etc. and even the SC, have also fallen in line.
Had the intentions of the Government been to truly help the farmers, they could have held consultations with them. They could help them in forming co-operatives, like Amul, to run private mandis and provide logistical and legal support so that they can confidently compete with corporates. In the absence of such support, all the reassurances would become untruths, like, doubling the income of farmers, non-existence of NRC camps, no intrusion of China, etc., with the interests of crony-capitalist-friends on the back of their mind.
The PM managed to win the 'minds' of 20 crore voters to lead the country. However, the country wishes that he would sincerely display the traits of truthfulness, compassion and concern equally for everyone, to win the 'hearts' of 130 crore people, to become a great leader, and spare the hand of Bhasmasur only for fraudsters and defaulters of public money; and thus correct the 'Time' magazine.
The writer is a retired IPS officer and a former Member of Public Grievances Commission, Delhi. Views expressed are personal