Centre's Agricultural Marketing Reforms Are an Assault on Federalism

by N.S.Venkataraman       18 September 2020

Every time a  government introduces any new reform measures after exhaustive study to improve governance in India, it has become the practice for the opposition parties and sections of NGOs and activists to oppose it.  This is happening now and it has also happened earlier when BJP was the opposition party. The voice raised by BJP against the Aadhar card scheme when it was in opposition is well known. However, when BJP came to power, it started implementing the scheme with great vigour.

Such conditions only indicate the fact that most opposition parties and sections of NGOs and activists oppose schemes just for the sake of opposition and with an eye on vote bank politics, even if it would amount to misleading and misinforming the people.

Yet another example of such a  trend is the Koodankulam nuclear power project, which was vigorously opposed by some opposition parties and activists and some media personnel, claiming that the project would be an environmental disaster. As a result of the opposition and agitation, the project was delayed by around ten years resulting in steep cost escalation.  The Government of India somehow managed to implement the project and now this nuclear power project is functioning smoothly without any environmental issue. Obviously, the opposition to the project was unnecessary, counterproductive and one may even suspect that it was motivated.

One cannot but remember so many of such counterproductive opposition to well-meaning projects in the past, when it is seen that  The Farmers Produce  Trade and Commerce Bill 2020 is being opposed and criticized by a few political parties, some activists, and a small section of farmers.

A careful study of the scheme would make it very clear that it is well-intentioned and enacted with the objective of increasing the farmers’ income and protecting the farmers from the exploitation by middlemen,  traders, and brokers.

This Act does not delete any of the existing provisions such as minimum support price mechanism (MSP)  and would not encroach upon the APMC Acts of the states.

It is well known and frequently mentioned that the farmers do not get a reasonable price for their produce, mainly due to the exploitation by traders and brokers. The middlemen often spread an impression amongst the farmers that the market price would become low in the immediate future and persuade the farmers to sell at a low price and then hoard the product to create an artificial scarcity and then sell it in the market when the price would increase. The ground reality is that the middlemen, traders, and brokers make more money than the farmers. This is often seen in the case of several Agri products such as onion, potato, etc.

A case study with regard to Davana, which is an agricultural crop,  clearly indicates how the gullible farmers are taken for a ride by the traders. Davana crop is grown in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka and it grows only for four months in a year.  This is a much-valued aromatic crop and its extract is used by several multinational producers of perfumers abroad.  Davana crop is grown in very few countries and India is the largest producer in the world. There is little demand for the Davana crop in India.

A few years back, before the agricultural season commenced, multinational companies and their contacts in India created the impression that the Davana crop would be in great demand in the world and encouraged farmers to cultivate the Davana crop. Many farmers succumbed to the temptation and cultivated  Davana crop in a big way more than the world demand. When the crop was ready, the traders brought down the price saying the product was in surplus in the market. The desperate farmers having no alternative were forced to sell Davana crop at  reduced prices to the traders. The fact is that in the international market, Davana’s price has always been ruling high.

The central theme of this  Farmers Bill is that the farmers will not be subjected to the regulation of mandis or deceived by the middlemen and they would be free to sell their product to anyone. They will also not pay any taxes.
Certainly, the people who will be affected by the Farmers Bill are the middlemen, traders, and brokers and not the farmers.

In Tamil Nadu, a scheme was introduced a few years back, known as” Farmers Market”, where the farmers were encouraged to have their own shops to sell the produce to the consumers without interference from the middlemen. The party which promoted this scheme is now in opposition and is now opposing the Farmers Bill.

It is extremely unclear as to why some farmers to are protesting. Obviously, they are not adequately informed.

Farmers consist of several categories including absentee landowners who lease out their land, landowners who employ workers to till the land, landowners who work themselves physically on their land, and tillers who do not own land but who are paid for working on the land.  None of the categories of these people will be affected by this Farmers Bill.

Then, why counterproductive opposition to the Farmers Bill?

 Is it yet another case study of opposition for the sake of opposition, which appears to have become a trend in India?

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