• Anger against the three central farm legislations has been simmering since September. For the last three days, thousands of farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh have been marching toward the national capital and are nearing the borders.
  • After failing to garner support from their respective state governments, the farmers have decided to mount pressure on the Union government, due to which they are coming to Delhi.

While BJP governments in UP and Haryana have failed to convince farmers, governments of Rajasthan and Punjab have extended full support to their agitation. Farmers want the Union government to either withdraw the three legislations or guarantee them the minimum support price (MSP) for their crops by introducing a new law.

Farmers march to Delhi: Who is protesting?

  • Several national and regional farm unions, comprising many leaders, have joined hands under the umbrella banner of Samyukt Kisan Morcha.
  • This includes Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sanghatan ; Jai Kisan Andolan , All India Kisan Mazdoor Sabha All India Kisan Sabha,  Hannan Mollah, Krantikari Kisan Union, ASHA-Kisan Swaraj and Kiran Vissa; Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha Chandrasekhar; National Alliance for People’s Movements led by Medha Patkar; Lok Sangharsh Morchaetc.

In a recent affidavit filed in the Punjab and Haryana High Court pertaining to the preventive arrests of several leaders, the Haryana government termed majority of these groups as “oganisations with history of indulging in criminal activities, creating law and order problems and disturbing public peace and order.

Why are farmers angry?

  • Farmers do not accept the three new legislations — The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation); The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance; and Farm Services and The Essential Commodities (Amendment).
  • They believe the laws will open agricultural sale and marketing outside the notified Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis for farmers, remove the barriers to inter-state trade, and provide a framework for electronic trading of agricultural produce.
  • Since the state governments will not be able to collect market fee, cess or levy for trade outside the APMC markets, farmers believe the laws will gradually end the mandi system and leave farmers at the mercy of corporates.
  • Farmers believe that dismantling the mandi system will bring an end to the assured procurement of their crops at MSP. Similarly, farmers believe the price assurance legislation may offer protection to farmers against price exploitation, but will not prescribe the mechanism for price fixation.
  • Farmers are demanding the government guarantee MSP in writing, or else the free hand given to private corporate houses will lead to their exploitation.
  • The arhtiyas (commission agents) and farmers enjoy a friendship and bonding that goes back decades. On an average, at least 50-100 farmers are attached with each arhtiya, who takes care of farmers’ financial loans and ensures timely procurement and adequate prices for their crop. Farmers believe the new laws will end their relationship with these agents and corporates will not be as sympathetic towards them in times of need.

What are these new agricultural reforms ?

  • The Government with the aim of transforming agriculture in the country and raising farmers’ income have passed three important legislation from Parliament.
    1. The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020,
    2. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020,
    3. Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020

  • The Act provides the farmers the freedom of choice related to sale and purchase of produce. The farmers will not be charged any cess or levy for sale of their produce under this Act. Further there will be a separate dispute resolution mechanism for the farmers.

The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020

  • Aims to provide for a national framework on farming agreements that protects and empowers farmers to engage with agri-business firms, processors, wholesalers, exporters or large retailers for farm services
  • The new legislation will empower farmers for engaging with processors, wholesalers, aggregators, wholesalers, large retailers, exporters etc., on a level playing field without any fear of exploitation.

Amendments to Essential Commodities Act (1955)

  • The amendment would deregulate the commodities such as cereals, edible oils, oilseeds, pulses, onions and potatoes. It will help to lessen the fears of private investors of excessive regulatory interference in their business operations.
    Any limits under ECA over these commodities will be imposed only in exceptional circumstances such as war, famine, extraordinary price rise and natural calamity.

How did matters escalate to this situation?

  • In October, a month after the three farm legislations were enacted by the Centre, the Punjab Vidhan Sabha convened a special session and not only rejected the laws by a unanimous resolution but also passed three farm amendment Bills removing Punjab from the ambit of the central laws.
  • After Punjab did this, farmers in Haryana also sought support from their government. However, failing to get any response, farmers camped outside Deputy Chief Minister and Power Minister residences in Sirsa.
  • Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar held talks with certain farmer unions, but failed to convince them of the new central laws. When farmers realised the Haryana government would not help them, they decided to march towards Delhi and mount pressure on the Union government.
  • In September too, farmers led by BKU president blocked the Ambala-Delhi national highway for over three hours. Police cane-charged the protestors and registered criminal cases against them, including on charges of attempt to murder, further infuriating the farmers, who then subsequently called for a ‘Delhi Chalo’ march.

What has been the response of the governments at the Centre, Haryana and Punjab so far?

  • In Haryana, except for the ruling party BJP and its ally JJP, all political parties are backing farmers in their protest. The Congress and INLD have openly supported the farmers’ agitation. It suits the opposition in Haryana to keep hammering the BJP on farmers’ issues and mounting pressure on the JJP to blackout from the alliance.
  • Farmers enjoy immense support in Punjab from both ruling and opposition parties. That was the reason farmers in Punjab kept protesting, blocking rail and road networks, since the state government extended its full support to them.
  • The Centre and Haryana governments had outrightly failed to convince farmers. Despite assurances given by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, several Union ministers and Haryana CM Khattar, farmers have refused to accept the legislations. BJP’s efforts, from social media campaigns to tractor rallies, to convince farmers have failed badly.

Punjab, Haryana farmers protest: What can be expected now?

  • The situation is extremely volatile since the farmers are determined to enter Delhi and camp there. Farmers are carrying ration that can last months and are in no mood to turn back. Any use of force by the state may lead to a major law and order disruption.
  • The BJP in Haryana, however, is in a catch-22 situation. To enter Delhi, farmers have to cross through Haryana’s territory. The Haryana government has failed to prevent the swelling crowds of farmers that are coming in from both Rajasthan and Punjab — Congress-ruled states.
  • Between 2014 and 2019, Haryana witnessed three major law and order situations: the Jat agitation, in which over 30 people were killed; the arrest of Dera Sacha Sauda chief Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, during which over 41 persons lost their lives; and the arrest of self-styled godman Rampal, in which over seven persons were killed.