Once again, the world’s largest democracy reverberated with rhetoric of speeches and parliamentary debates. The year 2020 in India bought the extremely controversial Indian Agriculture Acts and kickstarted the age-old notions of farmer protection and rights, showcasing that dissent remains a powerful element of Indian democracy. The BJP government put forward these bills and in a stunning majority passed these withstanding tough opposition from its former arch-rival the Congress party.
The passing of these bills will not only decide the future course of Indian politics but also affect a plethora of lives in rural India. This led to several protests in diverse parts of the Indian rural heartland and swiftly encompassed urban backlash and empathy for their farmer brethren. These bills were formulated at a sensitive time when India was already fighting a tough battle against the deadly Coronavirus and the economy was at its peak low. Famers occupy a majority chunk of 47% of the population in India and are restricted to the extremely apathetic unorganized sector workforce.
People in rural India have been hit with worsening economic inequality in the presence of a rapidly changing agricultural landscape at such a crucial juncture the tension about the implementation of the farm laws gets intensified. This paper dwells on three farm laws – Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020; and The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020. Further, the paper will critique the three Acts from the lenses of the government and then provide a reality check by stating the repercussions of the same on farmers.
TRAVERSING THE INDIAN AGRARIAN ECONOMY
Indian economy is known for its dependence and reliance on the agricultural sector and commodities alike but today it stands at crossroads due to the postulation of the Indian Agriculture Act, 2020. Historical evidence proves that our economy subsisted on agriculture with a whopping 95% depending on agriculture and the subsequent revenues earned from it. Agriculture provided livelihood and means of subsistence to 85% of the population either directly or indirectly in the colonial era. Several colossal empires and regal powers were attracted to the Indian subcontinent since ancient times due to its fertile landmass and diversity of harvested crops. It is evident in these facts that agriculture was an essential component of the Indian economy and to date remains so.
Gathering from the above data it is conclusive that promotion and facilitation of agriculture is the need of the hour to bring in economic progress. However, the Indian Agriculture Act, 2020 was a deep scar on farmers at a point when they had already been hit by both disease and disaster of prices. This act comprises of three different acts, namely, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020 [https://thewire.in/agriculture/farm-bills-indias-rural-issues.
The BJP government has introduced these bills in order to bring about a revolutionary change in the logistical process (marketing, selling, and storing) of agricultural commodities. It also aimed at providing farmers with a more competitive arena eventually resulting in better prices as well as choice. There is also hope that the Act would bring in private investment in the agricultural sector which has largely been devoid of private players and has grown on loans and subsidies largely. The new bill is also a harbinger of infrastructural development and quicker mechanized ways of farming which can be possible through heavy cash flow in the sector.
These acts have caused apprehension and fear in the mind of farmers who have already been caught neck high in debt and loan traps by greedy money lenders who operate on the fundamentals of making a profit. This has been an issue because State, as well as Central governments, have been reluctant to fund the agricultural sector with credit directly. The government has started several schemes like PM Kisan Maan Dhan Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana, Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, and Gramin Bhandaran Yojana etc. These schemes have largely been unsuccessful because of the high threshold requirement of intricate paperwork and large-scale corruption prevalent in India. The intentions of public welfare have been the acting force behind these Yojanas but in reality, the real beneficiaries remain devoid of its benefits.
THE INDIAN AGRICULTURE ACT, 2020
The Indian Agriculture Act, 2020 might look like an appealing scenario on paper but its transformation to ground reality rests on dubious assumptions. The Act was a horrifying as well as a shocking instance for the farmers in these unparalleled circumstances of death and drudgery. The anger amongst farmers had been already boiling with increasing suicide rates, shrinking of land size, heavy reliance on subsidies, less agricultural investment and low MSP rate.
At such a time the Indian Agriculture Act, 2020 acted as the last nail on the coffin and the ongoing frustration crystallized into mass protests. These instances are not mere sympathetic tales but backed substantially by data. At a glimpse, India’s farmers are mostly small or marginal: 68% of them own less than one hectare of land. Only 6% of them actually receive guaranteed price support for their crops, and more than 90% of the farmers sell their produce in the market.
The condition of the agricultural sector is dilapidated to the extent that more than half of the farmers involved in these activities do not have enough produce to sell in markets and are only able to sustain themselves. The long fueling emotions got ignited in this instance and led to farmers openly criticizing government policies and demanding a significant role in policymaking pertaining to the agricultural sector. The protests of the farmers mainly revolve around the need to safeguard the Minimum Support Price (prices fixed by the Central Government at which they procure farmer’s produce, irrespective of the market rates).
Farmers are critical of tax-free trade outside notified APMC Mandis as this might reduce the number of agricultural commodities procured by the government. The second demand is quite far-fetched and pertains to MSP being made universal. The opposition and the regional governments have centred around the radical issue of agriculture being included in the State List and thus be governed under the ambit of the State Governments.
Further, this legislative classification mandates that the Centre has no power to make legislation on this subject at all. Their primary concern is the loss of mandi taxes and fees which will eventually lead to a loss of huge revenue outputs. Economists consider these new laws to be a changemaker in the agricultural sector as they will aid in increasing farmer incomes, advancement of technology, and will invite more investment ultimately leading to higher productivity. The current situation remains grim and shady for the farmers as these legislative amendments might be the end of wholesale markets and eradicate secure and promised prices, with no alternative options being put in place. The path ahead rests on shaky grounds with no ray of clarity being visible in the near future. The farmers are put in a precarious condition coupled with their own hindrances of being uneducated and unable to grasp these elaborate procedural laws.
Author(s) Name: Shreya Tiwari (OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat)
 Vijay Jawandhiya & Ajay Dandekar, Three farm bills and India’s rural economy The Wire (2020), https://thewire.in/agriculture/farm-bills-indias-rural-issues (last visited November 2, 2021).
 Farm laws: ARE India’s new reforms a ‘death warrant’ for farmers?, BBC News (2020), https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-india-54233080 (last visited Aug 24, 2021).