Blocked by the police from entering Delhi, lakhs of peasants are protesting at the borders of the capital. After having held their ground for 15 consecutive days, peasants finally received Government’s written response to their representatives. The Kisan Morcha has rejected the government’s proposed amendments to the already enacted pro-corporate laws. All the constituent organisations have unanimously decided to further intensify their struggle, until these laws are repealed.
Below is an explanation of the so-called concessions offered by the government and the reason why they have been rejected by the Kisan Morcha.
Minimum Support Prices
The Central Government is offering to give a written assurance that the existing system of Minimum Support Prices will not be disturbed. What the peasants want is not a continuation of the status quo. Their demand is further strengthening and expansion of public procurement to cover all crops and all regions.
The existing system of MSPs provides only a limited degree of support, to only a minority of those who till the land. It does not guarantee remunerative prices for all producers of food crops. Procurement by government agencies at the announced MSP takes place only for wheat and rice. The bulk of agricultural products are bought by private traders at less than the MSP.
Public procurement is less than 10 percent in the case of mustard, groundnut and moong dal. There is no public procurement at all in the case of maize, ragi, soyabean and many other products. Even wheat and rice are bought by the Food Corporation of India only in a few regions of the country.
As a result of the limited extent of public procurement, the majority of peasants end up selling their produce at extremely low prices. Many of them end up not even recovering their cost of production. An all-India survey conducted by the Reserve Bank of India in 2018 found that the price received by peasants was less than their cost of production in the case of 70% of onion growers, 60% of tomato growers, 45% for brinjal and soyabean, and 30% of moong and paddy cultivators.
The Kisan Morcha is not satisfied with the government’s assurance that the existing MSP system will continue, because this does not fulfil their demand for guaranteed remunerative prices for all farm produce.
Fees to be levied in Private Markets
The Central Government has offered to amend the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce Act, to permit state governments to regulate private markets and levy market fees there. They claim that this will ensure a “level playing field” between private markets and the public APMC markets. This claim hides the reality that the main aim of this law is to expand the space for private markets and private procurement outside of the APMC markets.
Life experience in the case of many industrial and service sectors has shown that deliberate neglect and wrecking of public institutions is an integral part of the reform program of privatisation and liberalisation. Air India was deliberately burdened by the central State with high levels of debt and losses, so as to justify its privatisation. Government schools have been neglected and allowed to rot so as to promote the growth of private schools. APMC markets are bound to be wrecked so as to force peasants to sell their produce through private channels.
The Kisan Morcha is not satisfied with the proposal to permitting market fees and state government regulation of private markets because it is not going to prevent the replacement of APMC markets by private markets. It is not going to halt the drive of giant retail companies to establish their domination over agricultural trade.
Resolution of Disputes in Farming Contracts
The Farmers Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act is aimed at promoting the growth of contract farming. Giant sized retail companies such as those of the Ambanis, Tatas, Birlas and Adani groups, as well as foreign multinationals such as Walmart and Amazon, want to enter into legal contracts with peasants. Under such contracts, they supply the seeds and other inputs for specific agricultural products, and promise to purchase the final products from which these corporations expect to reap maximum profits.
The above-mentioned Act stipulates that in case there is a dispute between the contracting parties, they will have to approach the District Magistrate, whose decision will be binding. Now the Central Government is offering to introduce an amendment, to permit the kisan to approach the civil courts for settlement of disputes.
Past experience with contract farming shows that when the corporate trading companies no longer find it profitable to deal in a particular commodity, they find some excuse to violate the terms of the contract and not buy what has been produced. In such circumstances, it is common for the company to declare that the product does not meet the agreed quality standard. What will peasants do in such conditions? Approaching the District Magistrate is not going to get what is due to them. Permission to approach the courts is not of any use either.
Peasants cannot afford to keep attending court dates for several years. They cannot afford to spend lakhs of rupees in lawyer’s fees. They cannot hope to win a legal battle against the likes of Ambani, Tata, Birla and Adani. That is why the Kisan Morcha does not consider this so-called concession as any guarantee against exploitation and loot by capitalist corporations.