OPINION: Are the new Farm Laws solely Punjab’s Problem?

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New farm laws are not solely Punjab’s problem,
only the wind began from Punjab.

The new farm laws have created a major stir and have escalated the farmer protest to a historic pan India People’s Movement. The government claims that the three farm laws are an attempt to invite private players to generate healthy competition along with the mandi system (APMC), and is not a takeover by any corporate house. The centre government’s think tank has been opining vociferously in media that the socio-economic backdrop for MSP has changed with better times in the country and so the policies need a change. Punjab and Haryana has been pin pointed for being complacent to the comfort of MSP and for not reinventing its agriculture in spite of its depleting water table. A new narrative is being fabricated that it is solely Punjab’s problem.

What is Punjab’s problem?

Punjab is certainly aware of water table depletion for a long time now. When India was deficit in grain and foreign exchange to buy from foreign markets Punjab and Haryana were used for the Green Revolution and guaranteed a minimum support price for staples like wheat and rice to usher the country into an era of food abundance. It is because of this that higher fertilizers and pesticides manufactured by private companies made inroads. No alternative agrarian model was provided. The constant rise in input costs have now led Punjab into an economic cul de sac. For a long time the farming community was looking for a bail out of this predicament with the help of centre, by way of MSP on other high value crops ‘in a meaningful manner’ or by subsidies that could help them diversify to food processing. But that never happened. Punjab was already trying to sustain itself and deal with the repercussions of the economic policies of Green Revolution when Modi government chose to bring in these Farm laws. Reinventing agriculture at this point in time is out of question. This raises yet another crucial question: Why did Modi government choose to bring about such drastic changes exactly now? With no new solid alternative model and no transitional phase, the Farm Laws have been bulldozed on the states and certainly Punjab is worst affected since it is a state that primarily depends on agriculture for its revenue.

But then how did one state’s agricultural issue gain pan India momentum? Clearly because the new laws are not solely Punjab’s problem. Here is a deeper analysis:

Liberty vs. Security

Indian farmers clearly understand that individual liberty that the centre government is promising them with the enforcement of farm laws comes by jeopardizing security of farming community. In fact, do the farmers really have the liberty of choosing which private company they want to sell their crop to? Or will the private player choose which farmers crop it wants? The fact is there is no choice but only a façade of choice. It is for this reason the farmers have been asking for the safety net of MSP as a legal provision and not because they are addicted to the ‘allure of MSP’. According to an analysis by ‘The Wire’, farmers across 11 major agricultural states have been denied Rs. 1,900 Crore due to sales below MSP in last two months alone. Moreover, if Indian agriculture is not subsidized it will never be able to compete in the international market.

Powerful tool of Crony Capitalism

The three laws serve as a dangerous tool of crony capitalism which can give rise to heavy hand and monopolistic behavior. Section 13 of The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce Act (2020) clearly states: “No suit, prosecution or other legal proceeding shall lie against the Central Government, or any officer of the Central Government or the State Government or any other person in respect of anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done under this Act or of any rules or orders made thereunder.” This is simply outrageous. There is no legal recourse for Indian farmers. In fact, these farm laws together snatch away the basic constitutional rights of Indian citizens empowering the clout of government and big business houses to flourish. Certainly, the Indian farmers have understood the intentions of the current regime. Therefore, these new laws are not solely Punjab’s problem.

Crisis of Confidence

There has been a crisis of confidence in the government and its intentions. Never before did India view autonomous and independent agencies like CBI with skepticism. There was already a simmering distrust in all segments of society because of Modi government’s disastrous decision of demonetization, past rhetoric in Kashmir, CAA protests, frenzy of changing city and institution names, love jihad laws, mob lynching, extreme dip in economy – all of which has now been brought to a boil with these three Farm Laws being framed in a rush, behind the façade of a pandemic. Hence, a pan India movement where the farmers have been joined by various labour, trade and transport unions as well because the sense of fairness has been lost.

To encapsulate, these farm laws are not solely Punjab’s problem. Only the wind began from Punjab.

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