THE INDIAN FARMERS PROTESTS
In September of 2020, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the majority party in India, passed a set of three laws regarding agriculture. Since then, farmers across the country have been protesting their implementation. Most notable are the protests in India’s capital, New Delhi, which are made up of farmers from across the country (though the majority is from Punjab and Haryana).
Global protests have gained momentum in the past few weeks, mainly in large hubs of Indian communities. These include Canada, England, and the United States. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even commented on the large protests, stating at an online event that the Indian government’s actions were “concerning”.
Talks have been occurring between farmers’ organizations and government officials for over 30 days, but no agreement has been settled. While the government wishes to amend the bills to help the farmers, protestors have been fighting for the annulment of them. Organizations like Saving Punjab have been drafting letters to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, stating that their main concern with the bills is with the abolishment of the Minimum Support Price (MSP). According to press releases from government officials though, the three bills will not touch the MSP.
“[The] laws are beneficial, but [there was] a great communication failure on [the] Centre’s part,” said Ashok Gulati, a member of the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council from 1999-2001.
There are three laws that have been passed: 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. Each affects Indian farmers in separate ways.
Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act 2020
The Promotion and Facilitation Act creates a national framework for markets outside of mandis (government regulated markets). Farmers can directly sell to the private sector, like agricultural businesses and supermarkets. Private and government markets have different amounts of influence on the agricultural sector across the country.
This inconsistency has to do with how states use the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs). APMCs are state-based legislation that set up the mandi system, physical markets where farmers bring their produce to sell at a Minimum Support Price (MSP). According to BBC, in states like Haryana and Punjab, the mandi system is very strong.
“These markets are run by committees made up of farmers, often large land-owners, and traders or ‘commission agents’ who act as middle men for brokering sales, organising storage and transport, or even financing deals,” reported BBC.
While politicians have assured that 1) new markets will run parallel to mandis and 2) they will not be repealing MSPs, some farmers are still skeptical about the Promotion and Facilitation Act.
Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act 2020
The Empowerment and Protection Act builds on the Promotion and Facilitation Act by allowing farmers to enter contracts with firms, processors, wholesalers, exporters, or large retailers in the agricultural business. According to Times of India, this act transfers the risks of an unpredictable market to the private businesses farmers sign contracts with (or sponsors). The act also attempts to increase their income by giving marketing costs to the sponsors and eliminating middlemen.
Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020
The final agricultural act passed in August is the Amendment Act. The bill removes certain produce from the essential commodities list, such as cereals and onion. The bill hopes to reduce wastage and create price stability.
Many farmers are unsure about the implementation of this act because essential commodities change depending on foreign trade deals. This also another law which may give sponsors the upper hand in negotiations because sponsors can dictate how much farmers produce.
How the World is Reacting
According to the Economic Times, the Indian diaspora across the globe is one of the largest in the world. Protestors have come together in what some call the largest protest in the world to support farmers in India.
Many organizations have joined forces to support Kisans (term for farmers), like the Association of Punjabis at Rutgers University (APRU). SBHS alumnus and current vice president of the organization, Simer Khurana, talked about why the farmers’ protests are important to many Punjabi communities.
“Punjab’s culture is so rooted in farming. ‘Bhangra’ [Punjabi folk dance] is the celebration of harvest. The dhol and dholi [Punjabi drums] are played during a good harvest,” said Khurana.
Since the farmers arrived at Delhi, APRU has been spreading awareness through social media. One of its Instagram posts on the protests and places to donate garnered over 1000 likes. Khurana believes that both spreading awareness and donating to organizations are the best ways to get involved in the movement.
A few organizations to donate to include Sahaita, KHALSA AID, and the Guru Nanak Langar Sewa Society International. SBHS senior Simmi Singh has been working with Indian activists and KHALSA AID to organize car rallies and spread information about the protests. While donations and volunteering is important to them, Singh and Khurana believe the greatest difference can come from education.
“Education can solve so much, because there’s so much misinformation in this world,” said Singh.
Although protestors and government officials have not come to an agreement, international pressure has been growing stronger. Unless the bills are annulled, the amendment or implementation of these three farming bills may change agriculture around the world.