‘Government is saying I will not be responsible for ensuring you get MSP but traders and large corporate will be responsible.’
‘India now is the only country that is saying such things.’
Farmers across India staged a protest on Friday, September 25, against the Agricultural Produce Market Committee reforms ushered in by the Narendra Damodardas Modi government through two farming bills that have been approved by Parliament.
The reforms have divided the farming community like never before, with some farmers saying the measures are good for the agricultural community as they are now freed of mandi politics and can market their produce anywhere while others fear that they will become fodder for predatory corporates.
Speaking to Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com, Avik Saha, national convenor, Hai Kisan Andolan, asks, “On what basis is the government saying that these laws will work? Do they have an iota of evidence to prove it?”
The country seems to be divided over the farming bills. Will they do any good to farmers or will they harm the farmers?
I don’t think it has divided the country. On the contrary, it has brought the country together.
Yes, there are two sides to it.
One is a very small side representing the monopolists who want these laws to come so that their monopoly over food production, logistics, supply and consumption is completed.
It goes unchallenged and they are a miniscule minority while the rest of the country is on the other side.
They are on the other side because they do not want 70 percent of the population (to become) jobless and worthless.
We do not want some monopolist to get control over the food supply chain and then to have the power to do whatever they want with that food chain.
The country has come together to protest against the creation of a behemoth monopolistic people.
What kind of future do you foresee, say, 10 years after these reforms?
One thing that should not be ‘business’ in the strict sense of the word is food because food is a survival essential.
It is all right to be very modern about food and to say that it should be traded, should be in commodity exchanges, demand and supply, free market should play etc.
I am not against any of that, neither am I against corporates.
Enterprise is nothing to be worried or ashamed about, but most developed countries in the world also realise that corporations need to compete and not create a monopoly.
What is happening here is that laws are actually a breeding ground to create food monopolies.
But is it not a fact that only six percent of the farmers get minimum support price while the others are left behind?
You are absolutely right and therefore there the system needs to be corrected.
And the correction does not mean that nobody will get it.
You think of a classroom; if a classroom is not studying and the teacher is not good will you change the teacher or will you say because the teacher is not able to teach, let us abandon the class and so the students do not learn anything?
That is the solution the government is talking of.
But 94 percent of the farmers don’t get MSP. That is a huge number.
This 94 percent logic is wrong.
When they say six percent farmers get MSP it means the government purchases at MSP from 6 percent of the farmers.
It has never been any farmer’s demand that the government must purchase all of his crops.
Remember, the food basket of India has more than 100 crops and the MSP is for only 23 crops.
We have been asking and the logic of it is unbeatable, the government should declare MSP for all crops.
The government should enforce MSP as a legal guarantee to farmers.
It is very easy for the government to do so because in 100 percent of the country the government enforces MRP on every product.
If you go to any shop, all the shopkeepers have to display the MRP and there are so many provisions to punish them if they sell above the MRP.
There are consumer cells and so many punishments for shopkeepers if they sell above the MRP.
The government has the mechanism to enforce MRP, so they must have a mechanism to enforce MSP too.
The government buying cauliflower at public cost and letting it rot is not a good thing for any citizen.
The government has created a huge public cost in these APMC mandis and left it to the whims of traders.
Now the government is saying that if we disband these mandis and these same traders go out of the mandis, then the farmers will get a good price. How illogical can that be?
But these mandis have become the political base of local thugs and monopolists and they don’t hold elections as a result of which the farmers suffer.
Mandis are under the control of a government department.
Mandis are democratic bodies according to law and if they are not following democratic practices, then mandis can be democratised through the process of law.
Because they are not acting democratically you want to shut them down, that is the logic of this law.
On Sunday, when the Opposition was out of the Rajya Sabha the government passed these bills in the absence of the Opposition, so the Rajya Sabha acted undemocratically.
Does it mean we should shut down the Rajya Sabha too?
The government says a misinformation campaign is going on against them, thus misleading farmers.
Very well. Let us say the government is right but I want the government to answer two of their partners.
The Akali Dal and Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, both of them are saying three things may be in different words.
They are saying three things:
1. There has not been adequate consultation with regard to these laws with the people who this law will affect.
2. These laws ought to have been studied by the legislature, that is Parliament, before being passed.
The government is the political executive and not Parliament. And normally, in such large structural change laws, you often refer it to the standing committee of Parliament.
There is a standing committee of agri trade or refer it to the select committee.
You seek opinions. You seek objections and then finalise the law of this magnitude.
3. When you change a structure, you work on data. You do modulation. You do simulation. You do pilot scale study and then say this looks like it will work. So, let us make a law to work.
You don’t make a law and treat 70 percent of your farmer population as guinea pigs to find out if it works.
On what basis is the government saying that these laws will work? Do they have an iota of evidence to prove it?
Agricultural economist Ashok Gulati said this is like de-licensing of industries of 1991 and these acts are good for farmers as they have a better choice to sell their produce.
He is wrong. The moment you compare non-food industry with food industry and farmers, you are wrong.
They are not comparable.
Food is not an optional item.
You cannot play with food unless you are very sure.
How many Indians are ready to buy food at very high price? Say, double the existing price while the government does its experiments and Mr Gulati holds fort.
That is a problem.
Experimentation on food is very serious as we have seen famines in India primarily because of experimentation.
The Bengal famine of 1942 was because stocks of food were allotted to war and not for public consumption. It led to a massive famine and lakhs of people died.
Food cannot be compared to iron, steel or computers. Mr Gulati’s foundational logic is incorrect as he is comparing apples to oranges.
The government is saying MSP is not going away, but many farmers are not believing it.
Let the government announce, but the farmers do not get MSP despite the announcement.
The government announces MSP as a regulator.
The government has enacted a law called the APMC act where the government expects farmers to get MSP.
The APMC is not giving farmers MSP and therefore the government needs to tighten the APMC and ensure that MSP, which is not a legal right today, becomes a legal right just like MRP is.
Instead of that, the government is saying that I will not be responsible for ensuring you get MSP, but traders and large corporate will be responsible.
India now is the only country that is saying such things.
In every country the government protects its farmers as they understand food security is of as much importance as border security and they protect farmers from predatory corporates.
And I go back to my original statement. I am not against corporations, but we must understand the dharma of corporations and that is to buy cheap and sell dear so there is a profit. Why else would I be in business then?
For the government to say that this person whose religion is to buy cheap and sell dear for profit is actually going to buy at the right price and do fair trade, and he will not be concerned about profit, how ridiculous can this be!
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