New Farm Laws Good in Theory but Farmers Need Protection from Exploitation on Ground: Top Agri Economist

Image for representation

Image for representation

Unless small and marginal farmers are organised as cooperatives or producers’ groups, they will fail to benefit from such big reforms, says Dr T Haque.

Eram Agha

The farm bills passed amid din in the Rajya Sabha on Sunday are good only in theory and are far removed from the ground realities of the small and marginal farmers, say some domain experts, who’ve also argued that corporates and big agri-business firms have more presence in the proposed legislation than the humble peasants.

According to Dr T Haque, who served as chairperson of the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, “Theoretically these are good laws. However unless small and marginal farmers are organised as cooperatives or producers’ groups, they will fail to benefit from such big reforms.”

Amid fierce opposition, the government pushed the two major agriculture legislation on Sunday: Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020.

The proposed laws are silent on important factors like the minimum support price (MSP), experts say, adding that while framing the rules of implementation the government must ensure protection to small farmers if it intends to benefit them.

“The system of MSP especially for rice and wheat should continue in order to support the National Food Security Act. And most importantly protect the small farmers in getting remunerative prices. In fact, no private players should be allowed to pay less than the minimum support prices. There are apprehensions among farmers which should be cleared while drafting the rules and framework for implementation of the law. It should be on paper that MSP will be the benchmark price,” said Haque, who was also appointed honorary chairperson of the Special Cell on Land Policy in the Niti Aayog and National Fellow of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research at the National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research.

The reforms are seen as pro-corporate. In fact, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), complained to the Centre in August that the bills paint corporates as farmers while invisibilising the real farmers. The farmers' union sought to convince the government to provide protection to farmers by ensuring registration of traders and establishing nyayalaya.

The rules must ensure arrangements to benefit the small farmers, experts say.

“The government regulation has to be there to protect farmers from exploitation. There should be a farmers’ cooperative that empowers them for better bargains. In case of cartelisation of traders and bulk purchasers the government must intervene,” Haque said.

Since the significance of Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees has been undermined in the new law, “APMC and private firms should have a level playing field through rationalisation of market fees,” said Haque.

Hundreds of farmer unions across Punjab and Haryana have called for multiple protests in the coming days. The groups have called for a total shutdown on September 25 against the farm bills.

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