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Farm Bills and Farmers’ protests post Diwali

On November 20th, 2020, several farmer organizations from Punjab and Haryana decided to observe 'kali Diwali.' Here are the reasons for their dissent against the Centre's farm laws and the provisions that did not go down well with India's primary agriculture industry stakeholders.

Rajeshwari Kashyap

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On November 20th,2020, Punjab farmer unions and the protesting farmers observed: "black Diwali" against the "black" agricultural laws, which are at the center of substantial political controversy. On November 13th, 2020, the talks between the Centre and Farmer unions ended inconclusively in Delhi. Afterward, they declared that they would light torches on Diwali night as a sign of their struggle against the newly passed agricultural laws. Amid the protests by at least thirty farmer organizations, the bills were passed in both the Houses of Parliament in Late September 2020. The three laws are-The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Act,2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act,2020, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act,2020.

The first law is implemented to promote a barrier-free inter-state and intra-state trade of farmers' produce, reduce marketing and transportation costs, and help farmers get better prices for their produce. The opposition claims that this bill would not only lead the states to lose revenue that they procure as 'mandi fees' as farmers would sell their produce outside the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) markets, but it would eventually end the Minimum Support Price based procurement system.

The second law, which promotes contract farming, implies that the farmers could enter into a contract with agribusiness firms, processors, wholesalers, and large retailers. They weren't taken down well and got backlashed heavily. The farmer organizations and the oppositions

claimed that farmers in contract farming arrangements would be the "weaker players" in negotiating what they needed. The private companies would have an edge in disputes.

The third law directs towards removing commodities like cereals, pulses, oilseeds, onions, and potatoes from the list of essential items that face the resentments. The opposition claimed that the price limits for "extraordinary circumstances" were so high that they were likely to be never triggered. Additionally, they objected that the big companies would have the freedom to stock commodities, which means that corporatization will empower them to dictate farmers, leading to less revenue for the cultivators.

"Proud to stand with farmers as their daughter and sister," tweeted Harsimran Kaur Badal, an MP of Shiromani Akali Dal she resigned from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's cabinet. This came in effect after accusations from farmers due to their initial support to their oldest ally-BJP. To highlight farmers' rights, many political parties have united and spoke against the Centre's laws. Congress leader and former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said that it challenges the pillars of the country's food security system. "A flawed GST destroyed MSMEs. The new agriculture laws will enslave our farmers," former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi tweeted with the hashtag "I Support Bharat Bandh."

Punjab is looking to counter the effects of the farm laws at the state level by using state laws as much as possible. The state had become the epicenter of the protests by farmers and political parties against the farm laws. "I am not afraid of my government being dismissed. But I will not let the farmers suffer or be ruined," Punjab Chief Miniter, Captain Amarinder Singh said in the state assembly.

While farmers are protesting against all three laws, their objections are mostly against the first provisions. There is an absence of constant demand among the farmers but a common ground for their concerns in the first law, which involves "trader," "trade area," "dispute resolution," and "market fee."

The Centre claims that this is a "historic" move for farmers' benefits while the opposition and the protestors call it an "anti-farmer" attitude. After one month of protests, especially in Punjab, the Centre could not give a convincing statement in the meeting between the farmers and the Central government. Hence, they were left with no option but to take out the procession and call it a "Kali Diwali."

Edited by Ishita Dang, Kshitij Kumbhat