Seeds of Protest
Forbes India|January 01, 2021
As farmer agitations gather momentum, Forbes India speaks to farmers on the ground to understand the way forward, and why they will not budge till their demands are met
MANSVINI KAUSHIK & NAINI THAKER

SHARANJIT SINGH IS ONE OF THE three lakh-plus farmers who has set up base near the Tikri border in Delhi. He travelled to the capital on November 26 along with a hundred others from Punjab’s Jalandhar district to participate in the ‘Dilli Chalo’ protest.

“Our fight won’t stop until these [Farm] Acts are abolished. It doesn’t matter if it takes days, weeks or months. We won’t go home until our demands are met,” Singh tells Forbes India over the phone while gearing up for another round of conversations in a meeting chaired by Union agriculture minister Narendra Tomar. As the sixth round of talks was cancelled, nationwide protests followed on December 8. A day later, the government proposed 10 amendments in the three farm acts; the farmers duly rejected them, sticking to their demand of a repeal of the new laws. The government had said it was ready to give a written assurance that MSP (Minimum Support Price) would continue. At the time of writing, the farmers had called for nationwide protests on December 14.

“The government doesn’t realise the power of farmers yet. The harder they’ll try to suppress us, the more we’ll rise,” says Kashmer Singh, president, Kisan Union Jalandhar, who has been stationed at the Tikri border since November 26. “Every consecutive day we are joined by hundreds of people. Till when can the government turn a blind eye?”

The government has refused to give in to the farmers’ demand of a complete withdrawal of the agricultural reform laws that were passed by Parliament in September. “In our proposal, we have made an effort to suggest a solution to their objections. They should leave the agitation and take the path of discussion. The government is ready for talks,” Tomar said on December 11.

The farmers want the three Acts—the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020—to be withdrawn. While the government calls these legislations much-needed farm-sector reforms, farmers believe they will only add to the miseries of the already burdened agricultural sector in India.

Balbir Singh, president, Bhartiya Kisan Union, told Forbes India after the seven-hour meeting on December 3 that the farmers are fighting for “the benefit of everyone in the country”. In the meeting, proposals from the government to amend the Acts were rejected by representatives of as many as 35 farmer organisations.

Broadly, the three Acts allow farmers and traders the freedom of choice relating to the sale and purchase of their produce. With the barriers to inter-state and intra-state trade removed, a farmer can also do e-trading of agricultural produce.

They also allow farmers to sell their harvest outside the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis, without paying any state taxes or fees. Farmers can make contractual arrangements with retailers, exporters and processors. And cereals, edible oil, oilseeds, pulses, onions, and potatoes have been removed from the list of essential commodities. Therefore these commodities are free of restrictions and stand deregulated.

While on paper the proposed structural changes will empower the sector and offer more opportunities for both farmers and private players, the agitating farmers have many concerns.

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