Protests have broken out across the country by farmers and political parties to voice their concerns against the two Agriculture Bills that have been passed in the Lok Sabha.
Opposition parties say the bills are against the interests of small and marginal farmers. Members of the Bharatiya Kisan Union demanded the immediate withdrawal of the agriculture ordinances and blocked the national highway-44. Besides Punjab and Haryana, farmers in Uttar Pradesh and Telangana have also been holding demonstrations.
Farmers call three-day ‘Rail Roko’ protests
Farmers in Haryana and Punjab have called for a three-day rail roko protests, from September 24 – 26, to voice their grievances over the newly passed agri-bills. Various farmer organizations argue that the legislations would lead to the dismantling of the minimum support price (MSP) system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporates. The farmers’ grievances are mainly about sections relating to trade area, trader, dispute resolution and market fee in the first ordinance. Under the new legislation, existing mandis established under APMC Acts have been excluded from the definition of trade area. The government says that the creation of an additional trade area, outside of mandis, will provide farmers the freedom of choice to conduct trade in their produce. However, the protesting farmers say this will confine APMC mandis to their physical boundaries and give a free hand to big corporate buyers.
Balbir Singh Rajewal, president of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Rajewal), says the new ordinance has confined the mandis to their physical boundaries. He also highlighted that by removing the fee on trade, the government is indirectly incentivizing big corporates. If you calculate the mandi transaction cost on one quintal wheat, at 8.5 per cent all inclusive, it comes about Rs164, he said. So, on the sale of every quintal of wheat outside of the mandi, you are incentivizing big corporates who will use this difference to offer better prices to farmers in the initial days, and when the APMC mandi system collapses, they will monopolize the trade, Rajewal said.
Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal told a local media outlet that Punjab would alone suffer a loss of Rs 4,000 crore every year which will lead to mass destruction of rural livelihoods, increase farmer distress and pauperization. This is the death knell of the MSP and the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees that have served the nation very well since the 1960s, Manpreet said. He raised several issues with the government including a categorical assurance that MSP would not be removed.
Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigns from cabinet
Moreover, Akali Dal leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal, a union minister, resigned from the cabinet. Harsimrat said the Akali Dal’s protest to the agri legislations was not heeded and it could never be a party to any decision that went against the interests of the farmers. In a letter to the prime minister, she highlighted her resignation to the decision of the government of India to go ahead with the controversial bills without addressing and removing the apprehensions of farmers and the decision of the Shiromani Akali Dal not to be part of something that is anti-farmer. Harsimart pointed out that she had tried her best to persuade the cabinet to take the actual stakeholders of this decision, the farmers on board and remove their apprehensions and concerns.
The government claims that the legislations will make farming more profitable, but farmers fear that it will bring about corporate dominance.