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Delhi, Haryana on Alert as Farmers March Towards Capital. But Why This Massive Stir Amid Covid-19?

Image only for representation: Bharatiya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh members raise slogans during a protest in Bhopal. (Image: PTI)

Image only for representation: Bharatiya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh members raise slogans during a protest in Bhopal. (Image: PTI)

The government claims that these laws will help farmers get better prices for their crops, by legalising contract farming.

The farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and various other states are marching towards the national capital through five highways connecting the city as part of their 'Delhi Chalo' march call.

The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh and various factions of the Bharatiya Kisan Union have joined hands and formed a 'Samyukta Kisan Morcha' to press the central government to scrap the three laws that the Centre got passed in September through the two Houses of the Parliament — Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020 and The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance — in the monsoon session which begins on Monday.

The government claims that these laws will help farmers get better prices for their crops, by legalising contract farming, for instance. A release issued by the Prime Minister's office earlier in June this year claimed that the Acts, which were then ordinances, will give farmers "the freedom to produce, hold, move, distribute and supply and will lead to harnessing of economies of scale and attract private sector/foreign direct investment into agriculture sector. It will help drive up investment in cold storages and modernisation of food supply chain."

However, farmers who have been protesting against these Acts since September claim that they will 'corporatise' the agriculture sector and further cripple them financially. Ahead of the September 14 monsoon session of the Parliament, huge protests were witnessed across the country, especially in Punjab and Haryana where tractor rallies were taken out amid Covid-19 outbreak.

It was in protest against this move that farmers were agitating in Haryana's Pipli by blocking the Delhi Ambala highway. The situation turned tense when police used batons to disperse the protesting farmers.

"We have given a nationwide call to farmers everywhere, in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, to come out on September 14 and voice their disapproval of the ordinances in whichever manner is appropriate within the social distancing norms put in place. The government claims that farmers are happy because of these ordinances, we fear that till now whatever little we used to get by way of Minimum Support Price, we won't get even that if agri sector is corporatised," VM Singh, the national convenor of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), had said then.

He said that the model of contract farming, for instance, that the government is trying to push has already been tried and tested in the sugarcane sector. "A large number of sugarcane farmers have tried this model of business and look at their state right now. They are owed thousands of crores and nobody's intervening to give them their due," Singh said.

Many agricultural experts have criticised the fine print of the law. Siraj Hussain, senior visiting fellow at ICRIER and former Union Agriculture Secretary, cites the case of PepsiCo suing farmers in Gujarat as an example of how vulnerable farmers getting into contract with large corporates become. "There are apprehensions on the part of farmers to enter into contracts as they are not organised and are ill equipped for any legal battle with corporates...On the intervention of the state government, PepsiCo withdrew the cases but the incidence left a question mark over the future of contract farming in which resource-poor farmers were pitted against a powerful multinational."

Narasimha Reddy Donthi, an independent public policy reviewer, in an article in June this year said, "Despite the government’s claims, not one of these laws benefit farmers in any way. However, as the text in the laws note, they will help traders, especially big corporations. Together, these laws are targeted at usurping state powers, and overriding state laws and market committees.”