Farmers and agricultural workers oppose ordinances in favour of big corporates

Farmers and their organisations across the country have strongly opposed the two ordinances on agriculture promulgated by the government. They have also opposed the amendment to the Essential Commodities Act.

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‘The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation) Ordinance 2020’ paves the way for ‘One India, One Agriculture Market’, allowing private companies to procure farmers’ produce outside of state-regulated markets. It allows agricultural trading monopolies to have unrestricted entry into the buying of agricultural produce.

‘The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance 2020’, aims to promote contract-farming and futures trading in the agricultural economy. It will enable the agricultural trading monopolies to establish their control and domination over Indian agriculture.

The ordinance amending the Essential Commodities Act 1955, removes all regulations over the pricing and availability of key agricultural commodities essential for the country’s food security. It will allow the capitalist trading monopolies to hoard the foodstocks and make maximum profits through agricultural trade.

Punjab farmers

Farmers’ organisations in Punjab have opposed the ordinances as being in favour of the big corporate trading companies. The elimination of minimum support price will push the peasants towards destruction, they have declared.

“The new ordinance passed by the Narendra Modi cabinet is clearly going to eliminate the existing mandi system,” said Balbir Singh Rajowal, the president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Rajowal). “The central government is very keen to hand over the entire agriculture sector to corporate houses during the lockdown. The scope of mandis of Punjab and Haryana will be further limited through the new Ordinance. With the stopping of the procurement at the MSP, the farmers will be totally ruined,” he added.

The Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU/Lakkhowal) leader Ajmer Singh Lakkhowal said: “Agriculture is a state subject, but the Narendra Modi government is all set to centralise the powers of the states. Traders will benefit more … The farmers find it difficult to reach the mandis even in their region. They will not be able to sell the crop easily in other states. Corporate houses will definitely loot openly to suit themselves. We will do a statewide agitation against this ordinance.”

“The concept of ‘one country-one agricultural market’ is sheer anti-farmer,” said Sukhdev Singh, another senior farmer leader from Punjab.

The Shiromani Akali Dal, has opposed the ordinances. Senior Akali leaders have criticized the move as “detrimental and suicidal” for the farmers as it will pave the way “to corporatization of agriculture”. They have denounced the move to do away with state guarantee of minimum support price, which is the sole source of income for a large majority of peasants. They have severely criticized the amendment to the Essential Commodities Act 1955 through an ordinance, without any debate in Parliament.

All India Kisan Sabha
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The All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) issued a call for farmers across the country to protest the ordinances on June 10. Criticising the ordinances which will further facilitate the loot of the peasants by the big corporates and endanger the food security of the country, the AIKS called upon all its units to expose these measures of the government and express their opposition by burning copies of the ordinances in their respective villages, work places and living places.

In response to the call of AIKS, it has been reported that lakhs of farmers and agricultural workers across India burnt copies of the anti-farmer ordinances. In Tamilnadu, protests were held at 96 places and 2839 activists were arrested. In Kerala, Bengal and Tripura, protests were organised at all the main government offices as well as in villages across the states. Similar protest actions took place in more than 100 places in Maharashtra, despite heavy rain. Enthusiastic protests were also reported from cities and villages across the states of Rajasthan, Assam, Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.

Other farmers’ organisations

Opposing the ordinances, Vijay Jawandhia, founder member of the Maharashtra Shetkari Sangathan, has pointed out that farmers in Maharashtra and many other parts of the country are not getting even the announced MSP. If the government does away with MSP altogether, this will ruin the farmers.

Yudhvir Singh, national secretary of the Bharatiya Kisan Union and the Indian Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Movements (ICCFM), said that the vegetable and fruit growers have been devastated because the whole supply chain got broken during the lockdown. Farmers at many places across India were forced to sell wheat at a price that is lower than MSP by Rs. 1,000-1,200 (per quintal). He opposed the move of the government to eliminate the MSP and end guaranteed procurement of the farmers’ produce. This will help the agri-business companies and lead to devastation for the farmers, he felt. The BKU has also expressed concern at the fact that with the return of workers who have lost their livelihood in the cities to the villages, the rural areas would be deprived of an important source of income, adding to the miseries of the peasants.

Protests of agricultural workers

Agricultural workers held protests all over the country on June 4 against the recently passed ordinances. Holding up banners and placards, the protesting workers raised slogans and gave speeches at various places. They expressed concern that this move by the government is in favour of the big private companies and would push the agrarian population to penury.

Held across 15 states of the country, these protests were led by All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU). The agricultural workers, already struggling to make ends meet in the wake of the COVID-19 induced countrywide lockdown, have denounced the Central government’s steps. They have demanded direct cash transfers and additional work days under MNREGA scheme to mitigate their hardships.

In Kerala, agricultural workers held protests in as many as 10,000 village units and in Punjab in at least 14 out of 22 districts. In some states, including Maharashtra and Telangana, there were demonstrations at work sites of workers engaged in MNREGA. In some districts of Uttar Pradesh agricultural workers held protests at the panchayat headquarters.

According to Vikram Singh, leader of AIAWU, “Many of the workers have lost their livelihood during the lockdown period. Their hardships will only increase if private companies are allowed a free hand in the agricultural economy. …. The two ordinances aim at encouraging private procurement of farmers’ produce…This will further drive down the prices [as opposed to Centre’s claims] owing to less bargaining power of the farmers. This will also lead to depression in wages of agricultural workers.”

“Moreover, the move to deregulate the agricultural sector has come at a time when more support from the government was needed”, he added. “The nationwide lockdown came into effect on the midnight of March 24-25, as a result of which the subsequent harvesting months – of April and May – were lost, since agricultural workers, a large number of which are seasonal migrants, chose to return to their native places. We demand the government assist these workers with a cash transfer of Rs. 7,500,” said Singh. The AIAWU has also demanded increase in work days under MNREGA from 100 to 200.

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