Seventy percent of the rural households in our country depend primarily on agriculture for their livelihood, with 82 percent of farmers being small and marginal. While a tiny percentage of farmers enjoy rich lives and another small percentage lead a middle class life, a large majority of farmers in India still live in poverty.
A look at the farmers’ suicide statistics show that out of 5,579 farmers’ suicide, 5,098 are committed by farm labourers. A total of 4 lakhs farmers committed suicide between the years 1995 and 2018, the onus of which lies on the age old antiquated agricultural laws, non-supportive of the real farmers. And though governments of the past, through their policies of liberalisation and privatisation, claimed to revolutionise all industries, they could not solve the miseries of a vast section of farm labourers (the poorest of poor among them) who remain exploited and driven to suicide.
Come 2020 and three new Farm Laws were passed. On June 5, three contentious farm laws — The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 — came into effect.
Thereafter, over 221 days that these laws were in force, they were met with unlawful protest and agitation from the state of Punjab to across the nation and the world over, from declaring the protest being a social and economic agitation to giving it political shape, till the Supreme Court put a stay on the laws in September 2021.
On November 19, 2021, PM Narendra Modi took a decision to repeal the laws. Interestingly, what he said while repealing the laws has caught the attention of all.
The prime minister said: “I apologise for not being able to explain to some farmers what we wanted to do through the agriculture laws. We have decided to repeal the three farm laws and will withdraw all three bills in the upcoming Parliament session.”
“Despite the efforts made by our agricultural economists, scientists, and progressive farmers, we could not convince the importance of the farm laws.”
“Our government brought in the farm laws for the welfare of farmers, especially for the welfare of small farmers, in the interest of the agricultural world of the country, in the interest of the country, and for the bright future of the village poor.”
Question is, if laws were revolutionary, designed to provide independence to farmers and free them from their past sufferings, why wasn’t the farmers’ community in favour of the laws and allowed these laws to be implemented for a year or two to see whether it really changed their lives.
What got lost in the process, however, is the huge turnaround that the present government brought in the agriculture sector and its related activities.
For example, the Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 proposed an electronic trading platform for direct and online trading of produce. Entities that can establish such platforms include companies, partnership firms, or societies.
The experts have their opinion. This is what many of them have to say:
“The merits of the laws — giving farmers the choice to sell and traders/processors/retailers to buy from outside regulated APMC mandis, allowing both sides to enter into direct supply contracts and doing away with stockholding restrictions on agri-businesses — cannot be doubted.”
“Throughout the protests, interests of those farmers who are not wealthy and do not own vast tracts of land were missing. With the U-turn, Modi has condemned them to another quarter-century of economic subjugation.”
“The much-needed disruption of the rural hierarchies has been stalled; the transformation of India’s agrarian economy from a locally managed to an industrialised one where small and marginal farmers would have emerged as partner-entrepreneurs by tapping into the myriad opportunities has been scuttled. And all this has been done by a relatively small group of rich landholders and middlemen who see in the reforms an erosion of their political and financial clout and have staked their lives on thwarting liberalisation.”
“These laws were meant to bring free-market choices for the average farmer who would now get the opportunity to enjoy the freedom to directly sell their farm produce intra-state or inter-state at a market price to private players outside the physical premises of markets notified under state Agricultural Produce Marketing legislations. That also meant that the influential interest group that had so far controlled this ecosystem would be loathed to let this disruption happen”
A look at the eNam (National Agriculture Market), an online trading platform for agricultural commodities in India that facilitates farmers, traders and buyers with online trading in commodities and has more than 1.11 crore farmers and 1.14 lakh traders registered and trading online, shows that 90 commodities across 16 plus states and 2 UTs have been covered by it.
The best part is that the farmers can avail the facility of partial payment in cash (as per the limits set by the respective states) and remaining in their bank account for eNam trade.
Such has been the advantage to the farmers that the online payments on the portal increased from ₹3.38 crore in 2016-17 to ₹70.62 crore in 2017-18. Between April and July of this financial year, they crossed ₹68.17 crore.
To give you an example of an eNam mandi trading details:
|Price in Rs.||Modal Price||4,470|
The questions that now arise are: Why did these farmers fail to see what could transform their lives positively? Many leaders said that they could not strategise the communication to the last mile farmers. So, who was responsible for communicating the benefits of the law to the farmers? Who was responsible for awareness and sensitization of the farmers once laws were brought to force? Who planned the communication process and the timeline to reach the poorest of the poor farmers? What technology, methodology, language, tools was used to break down the laws in simple understandable format to convey the right message to the farmers? Have a large section of the farmers, being uneducated, misled by protestors? Had farmers been provided by wrong representations and diluted versions of the three historic Farm Bills?
If this is the scenario, isn’t farmers’ education the key to empowering them and freeing them from the clutches of multiple problems?
That being said, it is time to bring transformative change, not in policy but also in strategy for farmers’ wellbeing. Let strategy start with educating farmers to empower them with decision making ability, so that they don’t have to depend on others to explain to them what is economically and socially beneficial to them. Let them read, understand, analyse all laws affecting their lives and decide for themselves what is good or not good for them; what needs agitation and what needs acceptance.
(Mita Bora is a writer, researcher and entrepreneur)
[Disclaimer: The opinions, beliefs, and views expressed by various authors and forum participants on this website are personal.]