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The farmers protests: what’s going on?

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.


By Sifat Alag

Section Editor for Politics



As the largest protest in the world[1] continues into its third month a lot of lives have been lost, international attention has been drawn to the situation in India but one thing that remains as it is, is the impasse between the farmers and the Indian Government. One would assume that after all this domestic and international retaliation there would be a change in the situation and a peaceful resolution would be in sight. The government claims that these laws would benefit the economy and farmers, while farmers believe otherwise as it may adversely affect them.


Keeping in mind that around 50% of the Indian population depends on the agricultural sector for their livelihoods[2], this article will look at the provisions of the new laws and the circumstances under which they were enacted. Followed by their effect on farmers and question the intention behind their implementation.


What are these Agriculture Laws?

To understand the situation better, it is essential to understand the farm laws better. The govt issued the ordinance in June 2020 during the pandemic followed by the passing of the three acts in September. The first Act lays down altered guidelines for farmers to trade. It aims to expand the scope of trade and commerce as it also allows electronic trading and e-commerce of farmers produce. While it also claims to prohibit the state governments from levying any market fees, cess or levy on farmers, traders, and electronic trading platforms for the trade of farmers' produce conducted in an 'outside trade area’. [3]


The second Act removes restrictions on stocking under the Essential Commodities Act[4]. While the third provides a legal framework for farmers to enter into contracts with buyers on pre-agreed prices. These legislations now allow farmers to enter into contracts with large retailers and private companies. This also removes any middle men that existed before [5].


What are the concerns of the protestors?

The animosity has grown over the past years as farmers needs have been ignored to the extent that 11,379 farmers died due to suicide in 2016 alone [6]. Additionally, the resentment towards these Laws comes largely because of the non existence of a clause on Minimum Support Price or MSP. The MSP was implemented in the 1960’s[7] as a means to boost production and has since then acted as a financial security net for farmers. The abandonment of this provision along with the ability to trade with big retailers put farmers in a risky position as the retailers to begin with could set the rates high but as time passes, start to drop the prices based on the basic economic fundamentals of demand and supply. While the farmers are paid a minuscule amount the same produce can be sold by the retailers at exorbitant rates. The pay to farmers can drop without a limit and with no authority to report to and access a justifiable rate. This law impacts the livelihood of farmers as they may not even get minimum returns on their crops., There is also a likelihood that it would change the economic structure of the country by increasing the margin between the rich and poor.


Another reason among many for the large scale retaliation is the amended dispute resolution system as per the second bill. Section 8 of the Act lays down a mechanism for dispute resolution in the case one arises between farmers and traders. A Conciliation Board appointed by the Sub- Divisional Magistrate will settle the dispute and this settlement would be deemed binding. Stripping farmers from the right to constitutional remedies a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution India in Article 32-35. Since the settlement is to be settled outside the judicial system, in the eyes of the farmers this would put them at a weaker position compared to a powerful corporates.

Vis a vis storage there is no longer a cap on the storage of the produce resulting in hoarding and an artificial shortage which may result in prices manipulated by the traders. With adverse effects on the public at large


The enactment of these laws lead to immediate retaliation by farmers. The retaliation started off in the states of Punjab and Haryana, states in northern India and home to the majority of farmers. The protests were then moved to the borders of National Capital - Delhi. Upon arrival on the borders of Delhi these protesters were denied access in the national capital. This can be noted as one of the first large scale violation of fundamental rights by the Indian government during this protest. The constitution of India lays down fundamental rights in articles 14 through 35[8] and through the 3 months of these protests there have been violations of these rights on a regular basis.


What has transpired over the past 3 months?

Over the past 3 months around 248[9] protesters have been reported dead, while over 100[10] people have been recorded as missing. This may not reflect an accurate extent of the effected people. Due to the lack of trust in mainstream Indian news channels protestors have started their own news paper - The Trolly Times[11].


The protests picked up momentum on the borders of Delhi and persisted on the principle of non violence[12]. Over this time there have been multiple meetings between farmer leaders and the government. However, they have been inconclusive as the issues between both the parties could not be appropriately resolved. The best deal the government has offered so far is an 18 month suspension of the laws which was not accepted by the protestors as it would only provide temporary relief and not address their overall concerns.

The protests saw a turning point on 26th January 2021 (Indian Republic Day), the day farmers planned a tractor rally through the city but a section of the rally turned into chaos as violence broke out in some parts of the national capital. It still remains unclear who instigated this violence and how it broke out. But, as a result of the violence many were detained by the police, including journalists from independent news channels.[13]


There still remains deadlock between the government and farmer protestors.[14] While large police forces continue to be stationed at the protest sites which is highly barricaded and guarded and over 200 people have been detained without practicing proper procures.[15]


Ways and means have been found to malign the protests by attempting to turn onlookers against the protestors by calling them terrorists and Anti-nationals. On 10th Feb over 250 twitter accounts[16] were banned, followed by bans on songs on youtube[17] because they reflected the sentiments of the protestors. There have also been arrests in the name of sedition. Recently climate activist Disha Ravi was arrested for editing a ‘toolkit’ for the protests which was initially shared by Greta Thunberg. Disha was slapped with the title of anti national for showing dissent. She was eventually released on bail after 10 days as there was no evidence linking her to the violence on 26th January[18].


In the end, I would like to end by asking the reader questions for them to ponder upon. Whether the intent behind these laws is really to benefit the farmers or just a small group of corporate business houses? Are the apprehensions and concerns justified if these acts are implemented?


 

[1] '250 Million Farmers In India Are Taking A Stand Against The Government As Part Of The Biggest Protest In History. Here's Why The US And The World Should Pay Attention.' (Business Insider, 2021) <https://www.businessinsider.com/indian-farmer-strike- st-protest-history-us-world-pay-attention-2020-12?r=US&IR=T> accessed 25 February 2021. [2] 'India GDP: India Needs Farm Revolution To Attain 9-10% GDP Growth: Amitabh Kant' (The Economic Times, 2021) <https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/agriculture/india-needs-farm-revolution-to-attain-9-10-gdp-growth-amitabh-kant/articleshow/68473771.cms?from=mdr> accessed 25 February 2021. [3] THE FARMERS’ PRODUCE TRADE AND COMMERCE (PROMOTION AND FACILITATION) ACT, 2020 [4]Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 [5] The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 [6] 'After 3-Year Delay, Government Releases Farmer Suicide Data' (The Wire, 2021) <https://thewire.in/agriculture/farmer-suicides-data> accessed 25 February 2021. [7] FE Desk, 'What Is Minimum Support Price (MSP)?' (The Financial Express, 2021) <https://www.financialexpress.com/what-is/what-is-msp-minimum-support-price/2146971/> accessed 25 February 2021. [8]Constitution of India, Art 19-35 [9] '‘248 Farmers Have Died During Protest Against Three Agri Laws’' (The Indian Express, 2021) <https://indianexpress.com/article/india/248-farmers-have-died-during-protest-against-three-agri-laws-7198797/> accessed 25 February 2021. [10] 'Farmers' Protests: Punjab Govt Sets Up Helpline To Track People Who Went Missing After Republic Day Rally - India News , Firstpost' (Firstpost, 2021) <https://www.firstpost.com/india/farmers-protests-punjab-govt-sets-up-helpline-to-track-people-who-went-missing-after-republic-day-rally-9263491.html> accessed 25 February 2021. [11] 'Trolley Times' (Trolley Times, 2021) <https://www.trolleytimes.online> accessed 25 February 2021. [12] Himanshi Dahiya, 'Langar For Cops, Protesters: Images Of Hope At Farmers Protest' (TheQuint, 2021) <https://www.thequint.com/news/india/images-of-hope-from-farmers-protest-food-to-cops-hungry-protesters> accessed 25 February 2021. [13] 'Delhi Police Arrest Journalist At Singhu Protest Site, Detain And Release Another' (The Wire, 2021) <https://thewire.in/media/farmers-protest-delhi-police-detain-two-journalists-singhu-mandeep-punia-dharmender-singh> accessed 25 February 2021. [14] India Insight, 'What Agitating Farmers Want, And Why The Centre May Not Oblige' (India Today, 2021) <https://www.indiatoday.in/india-today-insight/story/what-agitating-farmers-want-and-why-the-centre-may-not-oblige-1745475-2020-11-30> accessed 25 February 2021. [15] 'Red Fort Violence: Delhi Police Detain 200 After Farmer Protests' (BBC News, 2021) <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-55817628> accessed 25 February 2021. [16] Rajesh Bellman, 'Twitter Blocks Some Accounts In India Again Following Government Demands' (WSJ, 2021) <https://www.wsj.com/articles/twitter-blocks-some-accounts-in-india-again-following-government-demands-11612932626> accessed 25 February 2021. [17] https://thewire.in/agriculture/youtube-removes-farmers-protest-song-himmat-sandhu [18] 'Disha Ravi: India Activist, 22, Granted Bail By Court' (BBC News, 2021) <https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-56164865> accessed 26 February 2021.

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