Farmers in Punjab and Haryana are up in arms against the Centre’s agriculture-related Bills as they fear their enactment — one of these has already been passed in the Lok Sabha — would be a step towards the abolition of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) regime. Agriculture experts too share similar concerns that this could leave farmers vulnerable to possible exploitation at the hands of big corporate houses.

“The three farm-related Bills, which are all set to become law after being passed in the ongoing session of Parliament, are anti-farmer. The one on essential commodities removes all cereals, pulses, oilseeds, potato and onion from trade restrictions and price control — this will ultimately benefit only the middlemen and traders. Private players will buy the produce in harvest season, when prices are generally lower, and release it later when prices firm up. Small and marginal farmers will suffer the most as they depend immensely on the intermediaries to sell the produce,” Jagmohan Singh, general secretary, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda) in Punjab, told The Hindu.

Mr. Singh claimed by doing away with the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act that facilitated procurement of the produce of farmers, the BJP government has given a free hand to private corporate houses to exploit the farmers. “After the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, which aims to open up agricultural marketing outside notified ‘mandis’ for farmers, now private companies will establish private ‘mandis’ on which there will be no government regulation,” he said. The ramification, he argued, is that all State bonuses on MSP and purchase and other protections will be lost. “Companies will benefit as trading rates will not be under pressure of government procurement and they will be able to force farmers to reduce their rates.”

‘Stir will be intensified’

Sarvan Singh Pandher of Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Samiti, which had been staging continuous sit-ins in Punjab since September 7 as a mark of protest against the Bills, said that they will be forced to intensify their stir if the Central government did not address their concerns.

“These Bills are a first step towards elimination of the MSP regime, which are in line with the recommendations of the Shanta Kumar committee, which had also suggested dismantling the MSP structure. It’s clear that after implementing the recommendation on the Bills, now the discontinuation of the MSP would follow,” Mr. Pandher predicted.

Nirbhay Singh, president of the Kirti Kisan Union (Punjab), said that in the absence of any government security for farmers against possible manipulation, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, which creates a framework for contract farming through an agreement between a farmer and a buyer prior to production, would only result in exploitation of farmers. “Corporates will buy from farmer at cheap rates and sell at higher price to consumers,” he said.

Rattan Mann, president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Tikait) in Haryana, said that the Central government needs to understand that these Bills in present shape would not benefit the farming community. “The government should promulgate another Bill making the MSP a statutory right of farmers,” he said.

Lakhwinder Singh, an agriculture expert and a professor of economics at Punjabi University, Patiala, said once the foodgrain market is created outside the regulated market (APMC), then it’s quite clear that there would be no MSP. “It is understood that when one is taking food trade outside the regulated market, and there is no regulation of that market, then MSP will not be applicable on that trade,” he said.

‘Don’t stop traffic’

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh on Wednesday appealed to farmers not to stop traffic or violate Section 144 in the State over the agriculture Bills.

He, however, made it clear that no cases would be registered against them for violation of Section 144 “as they are fighting for their lives”.

“FIRs already registered against farmers protesting in violation of Section 144 would be withdrawn,” said the Chief Minister, urging the farmers to take their protests to Delhi, at the doorstep of the Central government.

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