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Opinion

Government blinks, unyielding farmers

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The Union government offered sweeping concessions to farmers, proposing to amend two land reform laws and a bill pending in Parliament in order to end weeks of protests, but the farm unions stuck to their demand to remove the three pro-market laws that say they will. they damage their livelihoods. With the negotiations locked in a stalemate, a long battle looms. Agricultural unions vowed on Wednesday to increase protests by December 14 by blocking all roads into New Delhi and occupying toll plazas in large numbers.

The government has deregulated agricultural markets, giving more space to private traders, to stimulate investment in an agricultural sector that depends on subsidies. Farmers have opposed the new changes, saying they will be absorbed by large corporations. On Wednesday, the government appeared to address most of farmers’ concerns. He offered in writing the concessions he was willing to make. He proposed giving states a greater role in so-called free markets and a written guarantee to continue the system of minimum support prices (MSP), which offers farmers guaranteed prices set by the state for basic products. Another key offer is to provide additional legal safeguards for the rights of farmers engaged in contract farming “if necessary”, including a ban on any confiscation of farmland to recover quotas, and possible immunity to farmers from penalties for burning crop residues, which causes pollution.

In the letter signed by Vivek Aggarwal, deputy secretary of the Ministry of Agriculture, the government said it would make a handful of amendments to the laws to make farmers feel more confident facing the markets. But the farmers’ unions, which canceled talks scheduled for Wednesday after an informal meeting with Interior Minister Amit Shah on Tuesday, could not break out of the stalemate, stood firm.

“These proposals do not address most of our concerns.

Despite rejecting the government’s offer of amendments, it has repeated the same proposals. He is just trying to wear down the farmers, ”said Kirankumar Vissa of Rythu Swarajya Vedika, a farmer representative.

Together, the laws allow companies to freely trade agricultural products outside of the so-called “mandi system” controlled by the government, allow private traders to store large quantities of commodities for future sales, and establish new rules of contract farming.

The first government proposal is to amend the Agricultural Products Trade and Trade (Promotion and Facilitation) Act of 2020 to achieve parity between the so-called free markets and the notified markets controlled by state governments.

“Amendments will be submitted to allow states to introduce a registry system in private markets and also allow states to impose fees and charges for services equivalent to those applicable in notified markets,” says the first proposal.

Agricultural unions argue that government-controlled regulated markets, which charge trade fees, will collapse due to competition from new deregulated free markets, which have no fees or charges. Farmers have overwhelmed the existing network of regulated markets by offering them guaranteed prices for commodities. Many economists say that intermediaries often manipulate prices in these oligopolistic markets to their advantage.

A related proposal also said that states could create their own rules on the mandatory documents traders need to operate in free markets, with the provision of minimum documents.

The new laws make local magistrates the final authority to resolve disputes between merchants and farmers. Agricultural unions have opposed this provision. The government’s proposal in this regard said that “amendments will be made to allow farmers to address the civil courts of their choice.”

The government also said it would amend the Farmers ‘Agreement (Empowerment and Protection) on Price Guarantee and Agricultural Services Act of 2020 to bring additional safeguards to ensure farmers’ rights to their land “if necessary.”

“The contract farming law already prohibits the transfer, sale, lease and mortgage of a farmer’s land. Agribusiness (sponsors) cannot confiscate farmers’ land for any reason arising from contract farming. If necessary, a new clarification will be issued in this regard, ”said the government. Another proposal is a written guarantee on the continuation of the existing MSP system.

Farmers have opposed penalties for burning polluting crop stubble, invoked by an ordinance in October. “The government will find a solution to this problem,” said the proposal, in more detail.

Lastly, the government said it would keep farmers out of the 2020 electricity (amendment) bill. Farmers have opposed a key provision of the bill, which provides for a direct cash transfer mechanism to transfer electricity. energy subsidy to eligible consumers, including farmers. , a major recipient of subsidized energy.

Farm unions say they are prepared to participate for months in what has become a politically defiant spiral of farmer protests in decades.

“The problem is not about a clause, but about the direction in which the government is pushing agriculture in India, one that is foreshadowed to large corporations, against the interests of farmers and consumers. If the government is ready for so many amendments, why can’t it just repeal the laws and end the matter? ”Said Kavitha Kuruganti, the only negotiator representing farmers in recent rounds of talks with the government.

The experts called for the need to find a solution.

“Agriculture generally needs a combination of reforms, investment, price support and subsidies. Emphasizing one form of solution over others will not help. Both parties should find a solution that ensures that all of this goes hand in hand, ”said economist K Mani, a retired professor at Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.

“This is the first time that the Narendra Modi government has faced sustained opposition at the ground level. It is difficult to say exactly how it will affect him politically. The question is whether farmers are a homogeneous class. Voting in India is not known to be class-based. A farmer does not vote as a farmer. Rather, other identities take over, ”said KK Kailash, who teaches political science at Hyderabad University.

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