Suchismita Das: The recent protests against the Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 have been extensively covered by the media.
Several reports have also succinctly exposed the agenda behind these protests, revealing the fact that the protests are being fuelled by stakeholders at the Agricultural Produce & Livestock Market Committee (APMC), and not so much by small and marginal farmers [i]. Such reports are important to debunk the representation of farmers’ voices by certain monopolistic enterprises and their lobbies.
To begin with, the Farmers’ Bill 2020 is a blessing for small and marginal farmers, who constitute the majority of farmers in India. The bill grants farmers the freedom to sell their produce to anyone they choose both within and outside their states [ii].
The very fact that for over seven decades, farmers were vulnerable to penalization for selling their own produce to whomever they chose, is in itself an absurd condition. By correcting such a condition, this bill is in fact liberating farmers from a historical disadvantage – it is therefore not ‘anti-farmer’ but unequivocally pro-farmer.
Until now, farmers were obligated to sell their produce at the APMC. Now, due to this bill, farmers can choose to sell their produce to private buyers at competitive rates, which would inevitably benefit the primary producer for they would naturally sell at the price that benefits them the most.
Further, due to this bill, buyers can now buy the produce from the farm itself, which would save the costs of transportation for the farmer – a burden that has weighed heavily on the farming community for decades. Thus, no matter which perspective one may choose to adopt, this bill is indisputably beneficial to farmers.
The protesters are expressing concerns over the condition of APMC, its commission agents, and other middlemen, under this bill. However, importantly, neither APMCs nor their commission agents have been dismantled or rendered illegitimate in any way by this bill. The Minimum Support Price (MSP), whose aim is to give a minimum fair price to farmers, too continues regardless of this new bill.
APMCs and their agents are still free to continue their business as before, the only difference is, now the farmer too is free – free to choose whether to sell to the APMC, or to a buyer who offers a better price. This bill therefore offers the farmer the freedom to choose a better price for his produce, and thereby, a better standard of life through his/her increased earnings.
Thus, once again, the bill is undeniably pro-farmer – it liberates the farmer from the obligation and compulsion to sell at APMC. This bill does not dismantle the APMC, it only dismantles the monopoly of the APMC. Dismantling monopolies is the key to greater liberation of less powerful people, it is the key to greater scope for exploring one’s financial abilities. Dismantling monopolies are never against the poor, it has always favoured aspirations of the poor.
One of the reasons for the protests is that the farmers would now sell all their produce to buyers who offer them better prices, which would leave the APMCs and their commission agents without much choice but to offer equally competitive prices. Infusing the spirit of fair competition into a previously monopolistic institution is bound to ruffle those monopolistic feathers, but clearly, that does not make the Act anti-farmer.
Such a misnomer is in fact deeply misleading and can misguide several sections of the population if it is propagated enough. This would partly explain the misinformed support of certain urban intellectuals for the protests.
A brief account of the anxiety of certain sympathisers of these protests can be found in a recent article by H. Damodaran in The Indian Express [iii]. Damodaran argues that the protests are occurring because of the angst that has developed since the MSP has not been mentioned in the Act.
However, MSP has never been a right of farmers in our country, and yet it has always been implemented for the farmers. Therefore, this anxiety regarding the MSP has no base in the reality of the conventions of our country. This anxiety regarding farmers’ income is in fact unfounded since the Act enables greater scope for incomes of farmers. Damodaran also says that there is an anxiety regarding acquiring enough food through the APMC for the Public Distribution System (PDS) which distributes food at subsidised rates.
However, this anxiety too is resolved with the APMC incentivizing its purchases through competitive rates. Therefore, in every case, the anxieties are resolved by dismantling the monopoly of the APMC and encouraging greater fair competition among purchasers for the benefit of the farmer and the consumer. Further, contrary to the anxieties being propagated by certain channels [iv], this Act also has provisions for dispute resolution within two months [v].
Thus an analysis of the anxieties being projected through these protests not only reveals the pro-farmer orientation of the Act but also shows how this Act could help resolve these anxieties too. Perhaps if more people were to acquaint themselves with the actual contents of this Act, they would develop the sense to pause and reflect on what choice to make, instead of being pulled into agitations that they may not entirely comprehend.
[ii] The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020. (2020). Bill No. 113. Republic of India. (The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, 2020), Chapter II, 4.1, Pages 3-4.
[v] The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020. (2020). Bill No. 113. Republic of India. (The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, 2020), Chapter III, 8, Pages 4-5.