India is a free country led by representatives elected by voters. In theory, this means that the last man is not only represented in the legislature, his interests are also taken care of. The new farm bills that have now become a binding law break this trust on many counts. And while the common man is only aware of the debate around ‘freedom to sell the produce anywhere in the country’, there is so much more that lies beneath.
The ruling party is busy convincing farmers that they are now ‘free’ to sell their produce anywhere and this would eventually mean getting better remuneration. Let’s consider this aspect later and first talk about what they are calling as contract farming – a way for farmers to enter into highly remunerative deals with corporates. Really? Will the farmer win? Go a little back in the past to see how OYO Rooms- an Indian hospitality chain- lured hoteliers, mostly with modest resources, into signing so-called ‘lucrative’ and ‘revenue multiplying’ deals.
Hoteliers were relatively better aware of commercial and contractual aspects as a major chunk came from cities. In the end, however, the hoteliers feel cheated. Many have alleged that OYO abused its dominant position and manipulated contractual obligations in their own interests, thereby leaving hotel owners with losses. Think of the farmer. Barring a select few, most of these do not have even basic understanding of contracts and laws governing them. Do you expect the corporate to enter into a morally and ethically equitable contract with the farmer? Indeed, this is nothing but wishful thinking.
Now also consider how the British forced Indian peasants into growing indigo. The Mahatma’s first major agitation in India had this issue at its core. The peasants of Champaran pleaded with Gandhi to become their voice against oppressive methods employed by British landlords. What do you expect the corporates will do? Will they even care about soil losing its nutrients due to unsustainable farming practices? Will they ask the farmer to grow crops that are best-suited to the region or those that can fetch lucrative returns? Will they adjust to uncertainties in farming including monsoon or will they abuse the contract to protect their own financial interest?
Anyone convincing the farmer that contract farming will open floodgates of innovation, better infrastructure and remuneration is doing the same thing as was done by the PM when he declared a so-called 21-day war against coronavirus. Did coronavirus go away? Did demonetization put an end to black money? Did GST prove a boon to small businesses? Forget promises and assurances and think rationally this time.
Lastly, any discussion on the so-called new freedom to farmers to sell produce outside of APMC premises is flawed. This was already happening and a few corporates were buying directly from farmers. Yes, there were charges imposed by state governments but that is the discretion of state governments in India. When a packet of Parle-G can have a portion of tax in its retail price, are APMC levies so unfair? The central government, by bringing the new law, has first, impinged on state list subjects; and then, has given a new glossy-looking sanction to trade outside of APMC only to make corporates appear more acceptable.
The farmer community is at loss, realise it before it is too late.