On September 22, the Parliament passed three agriculture laws named Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, The Farmer (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020. The bills were introduced in the Parliament to replace the ordinances passed by the cabinet in the first week of June this year. From day one, the farmers in northern states, specifically in Punjab, are agitating against the new laws. They have blocked railway tracks demanding that the government must revoke the new laws.
The ‘Rail Roko’ protests by the farmers have caused a shortage of commodities, especially coal, in the state, forcing the Congress-led Punjab to buy electricity from other states at a higher price. These laws have led to the departure of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) from NDA, followed by the resignation of Harsimrat Kaur Badal from the post of Union Minister. The separation of the two-decades-old allies BJP and SAD has resulted in an announcement by the BJP that it will contest all 117 seats in the next assembly elections in Punjab.
The misinformation about MSP
The government of India has a provision of Minimum Selling Price (MSP) that defines the minimum price at which the government procures the agricultural produce. Since the bills were passed, opposition parties along with certain media houses and personalities resorted to spreading misinformation regarding the same. They claimed that with these new laws, the government of India is trying to go away with the MSP.
Punjab is among the top producers of wheat and paddy, the two main crops among several others that the government of India procures from the farmers under MSP. The misconception that the government will fade out MSP with these two laws has caused a stir in the Congress-led state. Captain Amrinder Singh-led Congress government in Punjab is supporting the farmers from Punjab while fuelling the misinformation about the laws. The state has already tabled a resolution to oppose center’s agriculture laws.
Attempts by the government to clear the air
As the misinformation started to grow, the government immediately came into action. Several Union Ministers and Prime Minister Narendra Modi came forward to tell the farmers that MSP is not going anywhere.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on several occasions, refuted the claims made by the opposition. On September 20, after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi accused that the government is fading out MSP, PM Modi said that the arrangement of MSP would continue. “I have said it before, I’m saying it again. MSP system will continue. Government will continue to procure agriculture produce. We are here to serve our farmers. We will do everything possible to support them and ensure a better life for their coming generations,” PM Modi said in a tweet.
In the September 27 episode of Mann Ki Baat, he shared the benefits of Agriculture reforms and how it will help farmers increase income. On September 29, during his address at the inauguration ceremony of Namami Gange projects in Uttarakhand, he said people are misleading the farmers about MSP. “There will not only be MSP in the country but also the freedom for farmers to sell their produce anywhere,” he said.
On September 23, Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar gave an interview to ANI in which he said that the government would continue to procure products from the farmers. When he was asked that there are concerns that corporate will exploit farmers, he said that bills passed give MSP guarantee at the time of sowing a crop. Also, as per the law, the contract between the corporate and the farmer will only be for the product and not for the land. This is another misconception being spread about the laws that the farmers’ land will be at stake.
On September 23, while answering the questions on MSP, Textile Minister Smriti Irani said that the government is committed to implementing the Swaminathan Commission Report. By the time bills were passed, the MSP was already announced for 2020-21 in the parliament.
Threats to hold Delhi at ransom
There are videos of farmer union leaders floating on social media where they threaten to hold Delhi at ransom. The President of Bharat Kisan Union (Krantikari) had said that they would block the five entry points to Delhi and continue their ‘protest’. “We’ve decided that we’ll never go to Burari Park as we got proof that it’s an open jail. Delhi Police told Uttarakhand Farmer Association President that they’ll take them to Jantar Mantar but instead locked them at Burari Park”, said Surjeet S Phul, President, BKU Krantikari (Punjab).
In fact, protesting ‘farmers’ have now claimed that they are carrying ration worth four months with them to Delhi. The Aam Aadmi Party led Delhi government has also extended support to the agitating ‘farmers’ in a bid to score a few brownie points.
Why isn’t central govt holding talks with farmers
Amid all the drama that has erupted in Delhi, people have started questioning the government’s intentions. Some are alleging that the government is not interested in listening to the farmers, while others say that the government is suppressing the farmers’ voice. Many also claim that the Central government has not made any effort to reach out to the farmers. However, in reality, the government of India has been trying to have a conversation with the farmers since the beginning.
On October 7, several farmers’ unions rejected the invitation to hold a meeting on October 8 by a secretary-rank officer of the Union Agriculture Department. They said that an officer has no position to tell them if the laws are beneficial for them or not.
On October 12, the Center again invited the farmers’ unions to talk hold a meeting on October 14 at the ministry in Delhi. The offer was also rejected by the farmers stating they will only speak to a Union Minister.
On November 10, the Center obliged their request and asked the farmers to come and meet Agriculture Minister and Railway Minister on November 13. The offer was again rejected by the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee (KMSC), stating they want an invitation for farmers from pan India as the protests are not subjected to Punjab alone.
This is when the Punjab farmers were indulging in blocking railway lines in Punjab.
The government of India again gave time to the farmers’ bodies to have a conversation with the government on December 3, but the farmers started to march to Delhi much before the set date.
They are demanding that the government talks to them before December 3. Despite the blackmail, Home Minister Amit Shah had said that the government is ready to talk to the farmers, but they have to move to the allotted space at Burari ground. However, the farmers rejected the offer claiming that they have confirmed information that Burari ground is an open jail.