Farmers' suicide
FarmersCredit: Reuters

India has been witnessing massive row over newly-passed agriculture bills, both in and outside the Parliament whose upper House today saw angry Opposition MPs allegedly 'misbehaving' with its Deputy Chairman Harivansh.

Lakhs of farmers are on the streets, demanding the government to withdraw the laws; their major fears are that minimum support price (MSP) for agriculture produces will no longer exist and food grain mandis will collapse.

Agitating farmers say that the newly passed legislations - the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, the Farmers' (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, will leave them vulnerable to manipulation by the private sector.

The bill to liberate farmers

The government, on the other hand, claims that these bills - once become laws – will 'liberate' farmers from all the shackles and they will be free to sell their produce as per their choice.

This 'liberation' is somewhere problematic for farmers as they see it. They say an unregulated market will lead to less income security for farmers, and safety nets, such as the MSP (minimum support price) mechanism and regular procurement through APMC (Agricultural Produce and Marketing Committee) mandis—will be compromised. To be precise, farmers want MSP and APMP systems to stay, which they say, have been guaranteed in the new laws.

Udhampur Sabji Mandi coronavirus
Representational Image

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Cabinet colleagues are trying hard to assure farmers that the two systems will stay, a claim fiercely contested by Opposition parties.

"I said it earlier and I say it once again: system of MSP will remain. Government procurement will continue. We are here to serve our farmers," the PM said in a tweet on Sunday.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who led a 5-member ministerial team to a press conference, said, "I am also a farmer and I want to assure farmers of the country that MSP and APMC systems are not going to end," adding that attempts are being made to mislead farmers on the basis of rumours.

Addressing media persons in New Delhi, Congress spokesperson Ranjdeep Surjewala on Sunday said the new laws will abolish Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees (APMCs) and asked the government how it will ensure MSP to farmers in absence of the committees.

"Will FCI (food corporation of India) go to 15.5 crore farmers to purchase their farm produce? If businessmen purchase agriculture produces, what is the guarantee that farmers will get MSP" the Congress leader asked, suggesting that the government should make provisions in the law to allay the fear of farmers over the laws.

An Indian Sikh farmer plants paddy cutt
An Indian Sikh farmer plants paddygettyimages

Why no guarantee for MSP?

"If government will continue to give MSP, why is it not providing a guarantee in the law itself," he asked.

When asked about not guaranteeing MSP in the newly-introduced laws, Rajnath Singh said that any existing law specifically doesn't mention providing MSP.

Contrary to his reply, the model Agriculture Produce and Livestock Marketing Act, 2017, while describing the power and duties of marketing committees says that they should ensure prevention of purchases and sales below MSP.

"Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing provisions, Market Committee shall - take measures for the prevention of purchases and sales below the minimum support prices as fixed by the government from time to time," it reads.

There is clearly confusion and apprehensions among farmers and the Central government must take immediate steps and take all fractions into account to ensure that the protests don't spiral and intensifies.