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The Farm Bills And Why Farmers Are Protesting Against Them

Farmers all around the country have been protesting against the farm bills which seek to reform the agricultural sector. A number of opposition leaders have also expressed their disapproval over these bills. What are these bills and why are farmers protesting against these?

Farmers protesting against the Farm Bills. Source: Al Jazeera

The government has called these bills ‘historic’ and said that these bills will empower the farmers and enlarge their market share. A few days ago, Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigned from the Union Cabinet over these bills, calling them ‘anti-farmer’ creating tensions between the Shiromani Akali Dal and Bharatiya Janata Party alliance. Shiromani Akali Dal distancing itself from its long time ally BJP is largely attributed to farmers’ outrage over these bills who form one of the largest vote shares in states like Punjab and Haryana.

Two of these controversial bills are the Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) bill and Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) bill which talk about ‘liberalizing’ the agricultural sector by opening it up to more competition. The bills will enable agribusinesses and corporates to engage directly with farmers. This is being done to remove restrictions on agricultural trade.

The bills will allow inter-state trade of primary agricultural commodities which are currently sold in notified wholesale markets or mandis run by Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees (APMC). APMCs require farmers to sell their produce in notified regions and to licensed middlemen or commission agents. The bills seek to do away with the role of middlemen and bypass the commission agents due to which commission agents are also protesting against these bills as they fear that they will be rendered jobless.

Interestingly farmers are also hesitant about the crushing of middlemen as they are their primary sources for agricultural loans. Farmers find it easier to borrow money from these middlemen because banks are generally hesitant to lend out money to them. Commission agents give loans to these farmers with the promise of getting agricultural produce from them.

The Union Government has been claiming that the bills are ‘pro farmer’ and leaders of the ruling party have given verbal assurances that MSP (Minimum Support Price) will remain.MSP is the remunerated price mandated by the government and it is federally fixed to ensure that farmers are not exploited. Yesterday Prime Minister Narendra Modi also tweeted that MSP will remain but the lack of explicit mention of MSP in written form in the bills has made farmers apprehensive. Farmers are scared that they might not get paid the fair price for their agricultural produce which might make them vulnerable at the hands of the large corporate and private players.

Farmers fear that because there is no explicit mention of the MSP, private firms might end up exploiting them as there will be no fixed minimum amount at which they can sell their agricultural produce. While critics see regulating the monopolies of middlemen crucial but also point out that altogether bypassing the commission agents is not a favourable solution as the rural agricultural sector is an interconnected network of farmers and middlemen. Farmers depend on middlemen for agricultural loans in return of their agricultural produce. The government has said that the bills will empower farmers to enter into agreements with private businesses modernising the agricultural sector.

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