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Here is what is wrong with the farm bills

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Since the day the farm bill protests by Punjab farmers began, and more so since the farmers started moving towards Delhi with an intention of obstructing highways that connect Delhi to the nation, I have been wondering “What is wrong with the farm bills, after all?” I am sure I am rather typical of the Indian who watches these protests on TV, and wonders the same thing.

I have literally waded through hours of TV interviews/debates with those political leaders who support the protests in order to understand, in material terms, what is the issue that they have with the farm bills. Something specific, something rational, something that can be articulated.

Finally, I thought of an experiment. I would look into leading national newspapers and see if there are editorial or opinion pieces in them that state the objection to the farm bill clearly. I am a semi-regular reader of the leading newspaper in Punjab—the Tribune—and since the farm protests started in Punjab and even today are disproportionately represented by Punjab, I thought I should look there. Seems reasonable.

I found just what I was looking for. An article with the bold claim: “GLARING FLAWS IN THE FARM LAWS”. “Aha, finally,” I thought, “a rational explanation of what is wrong with these bills that has so many kisans and political players up in arms.” Wonderful. I was finally going to find what I had been looking for.

I went through the article carefully. The article is medium sized, but really only gets to the substance in one large paragraph. I will first reproduce the paragraph in its entirety.

(quoted text begins)
Let us look at the contradiction between inserting the MSP provision in the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act and retaining the existing provision of ‘remunerative price’ to be agreed upon by a farmer in a contract with “agri-business firms, processors, wholesalers, exporters and large retailers”. If an agri-business entity were to agree to a ‘remunerative price’ with a farmer, such an entity will not allow him under the agreement to sell his/her crop under the MSP provision in the APMC marketing yard. Such an entity will be legally entitled to take a non-compliant farmer through the litigation process. According to the agriculture census of 2015-16, the overwhelming majority of farmers in India — 86 per cent — are marginal (with holdings below one hectare) and small (with holdings between one and two hectares). The remaining 14 per cent are described as semi-medium (2-4 hectares), medium (4-10 hectares), and large holdings of over 10 hectares. Though in Punjab where 33.1 per cent of land holdings are small and marginal and 33.6 per cent are semi-medium, and in Haryana where 68.5 per cent of the holdings are small or medium, the situation appears slightly better than the all-India average one, the overall picture remains one of low bargaining power of marginal and small farmers. Leave aside the marginal and small holders, even the so-called medium and large landholders will not be in a position to match the legal resources of ‘large retailers’ and agro-business entities. Therefore, keeping the provision for the so-called remunerative price negates the purpose of having the MSP in the APMC mandi.
(quoted text ends)

Read the paragraph carefully. It can be paraphrased as follows. If a marginal farmer makes a contract on an agreed remunerative price with a corporate, he then cannot sell his produce at MSP, otherwise the corporate might take him to court for breaking his contract.

But that is ridiculous! The whole idea is that the farmer is now given (by the farm laws) the OPTION of entering into contracts with corporates SHOULD HE CHOOSE TO DO SO. If the farmer wants instead to have nothing to do with corporates, and wishes to sell his produce in APMC mandis at MSP like he does today, the farm laws DO NOT PREVENT HIM. They only provide an ADDITIONAL OPTION that the farmer CAN choose to exercise if he gets a better price from corporates. The government has said yesterday that it is willing to even amend the farm bills so that they guarantee the continuation of the current MSP route for the farmer. Surely two options are better than one. The farmer has the APMC Mandi + MSP option, and now has a second option too.

It is like saying “I like to drink water. If you place a glass of milk alongside my water, I will protest.” No, just drink whatever you like, for heaven’s sake! And remember that there are others who may prefer milk!

This brings me to a rather logical conclusion. Could it be that the only thing wrong with the farm bills is, get this, NOTHING? What else can explain that in spite of trying earnestly for weeks, one is unable to find a single logical reason for the protest. Not one. I, for one, have come to the only conclusion that seems logical in this context: that the farm bills are good, and that the protests against them are motivated not by farmer’s interests, but by other vested interests.

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