Kushal Kumar Jha
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Punjab: Farmers' body in protest against the Union government's three proposed farm legislation bills have announced 'Rail Roko' agitation from September 24 to 26.
"We (Kisan Majdoor Sangharsh Committee) have decided to hold a 'rail roko' agitation from September 24 to 26 in Punjab state against the farm bills," said General Secretary Sarwan Singh Pandher.
Various farmer bodies and organizations have already called for a "Bandh" in Punjab on September 25.
The Central Government on Monday had introduced the three farm bills in Lok Sabha. These are:
Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill;
Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance Bill; and
Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill.
Lok Sabha has already passed the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020 on Tuesday. This bill seeks to deregulate food items such as Cereals, Pulses, and Onions. Whereas, The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill and Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance Bill has also passed in Lok Sabha on Thursday. The Central Government claims that these bills will transform the farming sector and boost the income of farmers.
Punjab government has already passed a resolution in the Punjab state assembly, rejecting the ordinances introduced by Parliament earlier and replaced by the three bills.
Apart from the opposition parties like Indian National Congress (INC), Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal is also opposing the bills, calling these measures as anti-farmers. The SAD's Minister in the Union Cabinet, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, has tendered her resignation which the President has also accepted.
Why farmers' bodies & farmers are protesting against these bills?
Farmers are anxious that they will no longer receive MSPs (Minimum Support Price) for their farm produce. Meanwhile, the commission agents in Punjab fear that they will lose out on their commissions. Reportedly According to a Punjab Agricultural University study, there are over 12 lakh farming families in Punjab and 28,000 registered commission agents. Farmers are in fear that they will be at "Corporates' mercy" if the MSPs on their crop vanished because of the latest legislation.
A Major part of Punjab's economy rests upon funds infused by central procurement agencies such as the Food Corporation of India (FCI). A large share of Wheat and Rice produced in Punjab is procured by or for FCI. Reportedly, In the 2019-2020 Rabi marketing season, Punjab supplied 129.1 lakh metric tonnes (LMT) of the 341.3 LMT wheat procured for the central pool. In 2018-19, it contributed 113.3 LMT of rice to the total 443.3 LMT in the central Pool.
The protestors are fearing that the Food Corporation of India (FCI) will longer procure the crops and produce from the Mandis, which will rob commission agents of their 2.5% commission. The state itself will lose the 6% commission that the state government used to charge on the procurement agency.
The ordinances/bills will allow farmers to sell their produce in the open market while it may or may not show results in increasing the income of farmers (only time will tell). This move has the potential to deal with lethal blows to the urban employment opportunities of the people associated with the farming sector, such as commission agents.
What's the best way forward for the Union Government and Farmers alike?
The Union government needs to talk with various farmers' bodies and create a mutual understanding while clearing any miscommunication related to the bills. There's no doubt that any change in the system takes time to adopt for all the stakeholders. The government has to support those who will be affected directly by the farm legislation and offer alternative employment opportunities for the concerned stakeholders. In short, addressing the problems raised by the farmers is the only way forward for the Union Government. Denial or refusal to entertain the queries raised by the farmers and farmers' bodies will lead to misinformation campaigns regarding the farm bills.