Delhi’s borders are witnessing an unusual protest. Thousands of farmers are camping on the national highways blocking the borders. The hands that harvest crops are up in the air seeking repeal of the contentious farm laws passed by Parliament. Hundreds of tractors meant to plough the fields are lined up on the outskirts of Delhi, providing shelter for the protesters; the roads that usually see huge vehicular traffic have become temporary kitchens. The farmers are out to prove their mettle. While majority of the protesters are from Punjab, one of the granaries of India, their counterparts from Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Rajasthan and other places are coming in droves to join them.
The bone of contention is some of the provisions in the amended laws that the farmers fear will break their backbone. The decision to wind up ‘mandis’ and non-inclusion of a clause assuring Minimum Support Price to agricultural produce have left the farmers skeptical. Theoretically the new law gives farmers choice to sell their produce anywhere in the country. The government argues that this will help them fetch higher price for their produce. But, at the ground level things are not as rosy as it is being portrayed. For example, a farmer with a few acres of land may not be in a position to go around looking for market where he can get the highest price. They will prefer to go to a mandi in their area where they are assured of a particular price. They fear that in the absence of mandis and MSP, corporate houses will enter the market and fix the prices according to their whims and fancies.
The changes in the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act remove many agricultural produces from the list of essential commodities. This will help private parties to stockpile items, without any fear of punishment, and create artificial scarcity in the market to jack up prices and make exorbitant profits. The government’s unilateral decision to amend farm laws without taking the stake-holders into confidence shows its disdain and disregard for the majority of people.
Agriculture is the only sector which maintained positive growth during the Covid pandemic. The government should come out with a law that would offer assured prices to farmers and an effective procurement system. To improve the farmers’ plight, the Swaminathan committee had recommended remunerative price for agricultural produce – a Minimum Support Price which is 50 per cent higher than the cost of production. But the government which swears to double the income of farmers by 2022 has done little to ensure fulfillment of their promise.
If the farmers are digging their heals in, braving water-canons and tear-gas shells, they want to put an end to their life of impoverishment; they want to come out of debt and penury. Political leaders and bureaucrats who are turning a deaf ear to the cries from the farmlands across the country should know a bitter truth: While the prices of wheat and paddy have gone up by 20 to 70 times from the early days of Green Revolution in 1970s, the salary and allowances of government employees have gone up by 120 to 150 times or even more. The apprehensions of the farmers are not unfounded. Their agitation is a proof that democracy is alive and thriving on the borders of Delhi though it is trampled upon by those who run the country from the national Capital.