"I have sold about 125 quintals of kharif paddy in an APMC mandi and received MSP payment in my bank account. But what is the guarantee this will continue if such trade is permitted outside mandis. This is our worry," said a protesting farmer Ranveer Singh at Singhu border here. Ranveer Singh 44, Pradhan of Shahbazpur village in Tarn Taran district of Punjab, has travelled with his fellow 125 farmers in six tractor-trolleys covering a distance of about 425 km in this winter and reached at the Delhi border.
Like other protesting farmers associated with over 32 farm organizations, his only demand is "repeal of the three new farm laws" enacted by the central government which he fears will dismantle the MSP system and put next generation farmers at risk of exploitation by private players. "No doubt, we are getting MSP now. We are not sure we will get it after 4-5 years. This fight is to protect the interest of next generation farmers," he said.
Stating that many options are given under new laws to trade outside mandis, he said however this will only weaken the existing government's APMC (Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee) mandi system. "Like government schools and hospitals, the new farm laws will only weaken our mandis. We know mandis will not go away, but entry of private trade in over next few years will only weeken the mandi system," he explained.
Another farmer Baksheesh Singh, 60, from Patiala said, "All that we are demanding from the Centre is an assurance that the private players like Adanis and Ambanis will not buy below MSP if we sell our produce outside the mandi." He also said that the entry of private players has weakened many of government sectors from education to healthcare, where poor cannot afford to get admission. When asked that the Centre under the new law has provided for dispute resolution mechanism at sub-divisional magistrate (SDM) and District Collector (DC) level, Singh said: "They are government people and they will listen to private players instead of farmers." "When the current system is running smoothly, what is the point having new laws. Even arthiyas (middlemen) are private players, but we are dealing with them for many years," he said.
Another farmer Balavinder Singh from Bathu Chak village in Amritsar district — who has reached the Delhi border to be part of the protest — is of the view that the way farmers are treated by the central government does not instill confidence even if it claims the reforms are in the interest of the farming community. As per the official data, the government's paddy procurement has increased by 18.60 per cent to 316.93 lakh tonnes so far in the current kharif season. Out of which, Punjab alone has contributed 202.74 lakh tonnes which is 63.97per cent of the total procurement.
Jagveer Singh, 60, who has travelled all the way from Patiala district, said, "We are protesting peacefully here. We have right to protest — good or bad. We are not goondas, which some ministers are saying to us. We will return to hometown only after the Centre repeals the laws." While most of the protesting farmers are demanding for repeal of all three new farm laws enacted by the central government, but their concerns are largely related to only one law — The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act (FPTC Act). Farmers also claimed that they are protesting out of their will and not been funded by any political parties.
In a series of tweets, Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad sought to refute criticism of the farm laws by some farmer bodies and opposition parties. Many misconceptions like the farm bills are a conspiracy to not offer farmers MSP, are being spread, he said, adding that the reality is that these legislations have nothing to do with the minimum support price. "The MSP has been in force and will remain in force," he said.
Big companies will not be able to exploit farmers following these laws, as farmers can walk out of contract anytime without paying any penalty, the Union minister asserted. Union minister Prakash Javadekar said, "Don't have misconceptions about the farm laws. Farmers of Punjab have sold more paddy in mandi than they did last year and at a higher MSP. MSP is alive and so is mandi. And government purchase is also taking place." Upset over the government's response, Bharat Kisan Union (Dakunda) General Secretary Jagmohan Singh said: "We want unconditional talks with the government. We will not come to the discussion table unless some of our farmers who are in Burari ground are not allowed to come out. It is a mini-jail." Sticking to their demands, hundreds of farmers from Punjab — who have reached Delhi borders in their tractor-trolleys from districts of Sangrur, Tarn Taran, Amritsar, Ludhiana , Patiala and Fatehpur Saheb — said the ball now is in the court of the central government.