To begin with India liberalised its economy first, to the world-market in 1991. Those were the economic-reforms that transformed India. Many millions of middle-class got uplift. However, India’s reforms then had not touched the agriculture sector. The farmers remained in many regulations for years. Even during the colonial rule (of the British), the Farming community was free initially and farmers could sell their produce within India and outside. However, the same British during the World War-II, in 1943, imposed restrictions on Farm produce sale, in open-market by bringing in the Essential Commodities Act. This way, they could take the Indian produce to the War-affected Britain for their own good. However, these restrictions on Agricultural/Farm produce were not relaxed by the Independent-Free-India and started regulating Agriculture- sector, as India adopted socialist- policies.
People in India, generally wonder, why the politicians in the state and at the Centre promise incentives to the farmers like: free water, free electricity, loan waivers, subsidised seeds and fertilisers etc. Apart from those they also wonder, why agricultural-income, is not being taxed. The truth behind it is, they (whatever given as incentives) are their (farmers’) legitimate rights. Because their hands are tied-tight by all regulations. These regulations are very stringent. The farmers have to always sell their produce to the government in the government established APMCs (Agricultural Produce Market Committees). And these Market Committees (or Mandis) are situated nearer to the farmers locally.
Invariably, the farmer has to sell his produce in the same Market-Committee; he is enrolled-in, not even in any other village/town/city/ state in the country. So enslaved the farmer is! Every time he has to sell to the same Committee. So, monopolistic the system is! These APMCs levy commission on the farmer’s produce which is sold on their premises. This is a valuable source of income to both state governments and licensed traders. The local elite benefit, not the Food Corporation of India (FCI). They do not like to lose that benefit. So, some opposition parties that run the state-governments oppose these Reform- Bills. The Punjab Congress, in all its recent election manifestos, proposed and promised these Farm-reforms. Now, its opposition is only to politicise and malign the ruling BJP led-NDA.
For seventy-five years or so, Indian farmers are used to this system and they are aware of their exploitation. Had they been allowed to sell their produce in free-market, they would definitely get their due or more than it. In any case, they are likely to get better than the Minimum Support Price (MSP) fixed by the government. For any reforms of this magnitude i.e. uprooting an entrenched market-yards and government clutches to the farmers, make them (the farmers) panicky. The Narendra Modi-government has ensured the farmers that it would continue with the APMCs and also MSM.
Hence, there is a scope for those farmers who would like to sell in Mandis they could do, and the others could sell in the open-market. So, there is no immediate change of drastic nature. However, the leverage given by the government by legislating the three-Bills viz. 1. Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill. 2. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance Bill and 3. Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bills are to be utilised wisely by the farmers to their benefit, as the government considers them to be entrepreneurs rather than mere workers in the field. Farmers do not need any sympathy from public or support from government. As producers of food to feed many mouths of this country, they need respect. That respect they get by standing on their own, by being self-reliant. They are for Atmanirbhar Bharat. In a message of relief the prime minister tweeted and also the tweet indicating happiness farmers in Maharashtra are signs of progress:
Coming to small farmers fears: how could they transport their small quantities to faraway places for good price? How can they avail this barrier-free inter-state trade of farm produce? Where is the safety in transportation? Won’t the Corporate enter and play a big-role etc. — with this opening-up, in all likelihood, the local and foreign transport and supply chains would come into picture. With Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in supply-chains, India would get currency in dollars. If the Govt. allows FDI to come in, they bring infrastructural facilities and new technologies in farming. The greatest gift for Bharat is: excellent climatic conditions and sunshine throughout the year for agriculture to flourish. So, these reforms bring bright future. By selling their (farmers’) produce to inter-state and to other countries, the farmers would become financially sound. No more suicides, as earlier. The farmers can go for innovative techniques too. The farmers’ prosperity is India’s prosperity.
Covid-19 crisis brought these Farm-reforms possible, of course, the Govt. introduced incrementally from May-2020, deregulation of Farm-Food and Essential Commodities Act. History will remember Prime Minister Modi for these Farm-reforms, as the former P.M PV Narasimha Rao is remembered by Indians for his Economic-reforms.