On 10th September, 2020 some farmer organisations in Haryana refused to obey prohibitory orders imposed amid the Coronavirus pandemic and held a rally at the Pipli wholesale grain market near Kurukshetra.
Their aim was to promulgate the three laws through ordinances, The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020. These protests are expected to gather steam after September 14, when Parliament convenes for the Monsoon Session.
As farmers continued their protest against these three Central Ordinances which was promulgated back in June, the opposition parties, Congress and IND showed their support to the farmers of Haryana while the ruling government spoke in conflicting voices.
The first ordinance, according to the Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar merely provides for “trade areas” outside the physical boundaries of Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis.These would serve as an “additional marketing channel” for farmers, even as the APMCs “will continue to function”. The freedom of choice to sell outside the regulated mandis should help farmers realise better prices for their produce. Further, it “will motivate APMCs to improve their efficiency of operations substantially to serve the farmers better”. The APMCs can levy mandi fees and other charges as before, but these will be only in respect of transactions happening within the physical boundary of their principal marketing yards or sub-yards.
The ordinance per se does not mention anything. It doesn’t suggest an end to MSP-based government procurement, but the Farmer Leaders believe that the intention behind the latest reforms is to implement the recommendations of the Shanta Kumar-headed High Level Committee on Restructuring of Food Corporation of India (FCI). This panel, which submitted its report in 2015, had called for FCI handing over all procurement operations in Punjab, Haryana, MP, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh to state government agencies.
“The committee wanted the Centre exit procurement and leave everything to the states. Where do they have the money for procuring and stocking so much grain? This… is only meant as an exit strategy for the Centre,” alleged Jagmohan Singh, general secretary of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda faction), reported the Indian Express.
The Congress government in Punjab, too, passed a resolution in the Assembly on August 28 urging the Centre to make MSP-based procurement “a statutory right of the farmers”. Besides, it sought a “continuation” of such procurement through the FCI.
The state also earns substantial money from the various levies on the value of produce transacted in APMCs. Punjab’s annual revenues from mandi fees and a ‘rural development’ cess — which add up to 6% on paddy and wheat, 4% on basmati, and 2% on cotton and maize — are estimated at Rs 3,500-3,600 crore. All that would obviously get hit if trades were to move away from the mandis.
The response to the ordinances hasn’t been so steady. As Shetti and Ghanwat believe that farmers will benefit if the retailers and the exporters will invest in infrastructure for direct procurement.
On 10th September, hundreds of farmers argued with the police who were trying to stop the farmers from proceeding towards the protest site. As the Police started hitting and lathicharged some farmers, they started chanting slogans against the centre to withdraw these ordinances.
The farmers are scared that they may not get a minimum support price from their crops after the centre will introduce new rules. They are insisting that the government should introduce a law to at least assure that farmers will get a minimum support price. Not only that but they are scared about a rise in black marketing if the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, comes in power.