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Why are farmers protesting? : History, Farm bill, recent events

The farmers' protest in India has emerged as a potent expression of grievances and demands, echoing across the nation and beyond. The farmers' demonstrations erupted in India around the perimeters of Delhi in late 2020, drawing thousands of participants primarily from Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh. These protests were catalyzed by the enactment of three agricultural laws by the Indian government in September 2020. Protesters and their allies contended that these legislations posed a threat to their livelihoods, fearing they would pave the way for increased involvement of private entities in the agricultural sector and diminish the government's responsibility in procuring crops at fixed prices, thereby undermining their economic stability.

 Farm Bills: 

Central to the farmers' discontent are the three agricultural laws passed in September 2020, collectively known as the farm bills. These laws aimed to modernize the agricultural sector by introducing measures such as allowing farmers to sell their produce outside government-regulated markets, facilitating contract farming, and deregulating the production and distribution of essential commodities. However, farmers expressed apprehensions about the potential exploitation by corporate entities, the erosion of traditional support mechanisms like the minimum support price (MSP), and the overall impact on their livelihoods.

The three farm laws were:

1- Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020

2- Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020

3- Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020


Recent events:

The farmers' protests in India have spotlighted a series of significant developments, marked by both tensions and tragic  further as reports emerged of farmers using tractors to remove cement and barbed wire fencing at the Shambhu and Khanauri borders. Concurrently, similar actions were reported at the Haryana-Punjab border in Sangrur's Moonak, exacerbating the confrontational atmosphere.


In response to these incidents, the Haryana Police announced a robust course of action. Deputy Superintendent of Police, Joginder Sharma, Ambala, revealed that perpetrators identified through surveillance footage would face severe consequences. The police, utilizing CCTV and drone cameras, meticulously pinpointed individuals involved in the violence. Consequently, a significant step was taken as the police initiated proceedings to revoke the visas and passports of those implicated in the unrest. This move underscores the gravity of the situation and the authorities' determination to maintain law and order.


Meanwhile, amidst the turmoil, a tragic event shook the community to its core. The death of 21-year-old Shubhkaran Singh on February 21 prompted swift action from the Punjab Police, who registered a murder case under relevant sections of the law. The incident cast a pall of grief over the protests, with farmer leaders demanding justice for the deceased. Punjab Chief Minister Bhagwant Singh Mann announced compensation and a government job for Singh's sister, reflecting efforts to assuage the anguish of the family.


Furthermore, clashes between farmers and law enforcement agencies have underscored the need for dialogue, empathy, and resolution. Additionally, the protests have been shadowed by the tragic loss of many farmers' lives during the 2020-2021 demonstrations, further amplifying the gravity of the situation and the urgency for peaceful resolution. 


The broader context of the protests reveals a mosaic of demands echoing across the agrarian landscape. Spearheaded by the Samyukta Kisan Morcha and the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha, demonstrators advocate for diverse reforms. These include the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations, opposition to electricity tariff hikes, and the provision of pensions for farmers and farm laborers. Additionally, protesters call for the reinstatement of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, and seek justice for victims of past violence, including compensation for families who lost their loved ones during the 2020-21 protests and accountability for the 2021 Lakhimpur Kheri violence.

What are the current demands of the farmers?

Firstly, farmers assert that the government has faltered in honoring its commitments made during the 2020-21 protests. In addition to seeking pensions and debt relief, they advocate for punitive measures against those involved in the sale of counterfeit agricultural inputs, along with an extension of the rural employment guarantee scheme to encompass 200 work days. Moreover, protesters demand India's withdrawal from the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the termination of all free trade agreements. 


Expanding upon their demands, farmers also emphasize the fulfillment of a government pledge to double their incomes. They bemoan the escalating costs of cultivation coupled with stagnant incomes, which undermine the economic viability of farming. Prime Minister Modi's administration pledged increased investment in rural development in 2016, with the ambitious goal of doubling farmer incomes by 2022. Additionally, farmers stress the imperative for the government to ensure a minimum 50% profit margin over the total cost of production, underscoring the fundamental need for economic sustainability in agriculture.


The root cause behind the farmers' protest lies in the quest for legally backed guarantees of a minimum support price (MSP) for crops. Despite the government's annual announcement of support prices for over 20 crops, state agencies predominantly purchase only rice and wheat at these levels, benefitting a mere 7% of farmers. These staples are procured at government-fixed minimum support prices to stockpile reserves for the world's largest food welfare program, providing free rice and wheat to 800 million Indians. However, experts in farm policy argue that purchasing all agricultural produce at state-set minimum support prices is economically unfeasible, further complicating the situation.


In response to the repeal of the farm laws in 2021, the Modi government pledged to establish a panel to devise mechanisms for ensuring support prices for all agricultural produce. However, farmers express dissatisfaction with the government's sluggish progress in fulfilling this commitment, highlighting ongoing tensions and uncertainties within the agricultural landscape.


 Government's Response and Future Prospects: 

In response to the protests, the government repealed the farm laws in November 2021, marking a significant concession to the farmers' demands. However, challenges persist in translating promises into tangible actions, with farmers expressing skepticism about the government's commitment to addressing their concerns comprehensively. While assurances have been made regarding MSP and other welfare measures, the implementation and efficacy of these initiatives remain uncertain.


Farmers have demonstrated remarkable resilience, sustaining their protests despite logistical challenges and adverse weather conditions. With the upcoming wheat harvest season looming, their resolve remains unwavering. Since 2021, Indian farmers have honed their skills in maintaining protest camps along highways while still attending to their agricultural duties.


Looking ahead, the government faces the task of finding a lasting resolution to the protests. To assuage the protesters, it may consider offering additional incentives beyond the minimum support price for 2024. Notably, this year's minimum support price for wheat stands at ₹2,275/100 kg, representing a 7% increase from 2023. However, the effectiveness of such measures in quelling dissent and addressing the underlying grievances of the farmers remains to be seen.

Photo source: Civils Daily


Edited by: Jaya Jha


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