Why Indian farmers believe new laws are rigged to favour India’s richest man

Indian farmers.
Indian farmers.
Image: Reuters/Adnan Abidi
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Thousands of Indian farmers are protesting against three new farm laws—and two of the country’s richest men.

On Dec. 5, protesting farmers in Punjab’s Amritsar burnt effigies of prime minister Narendra Modi, Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, and Adani Group chairman Gautam Adani. The farmers believe the new laws brought in by the government will favour the two industrialists, who are widely believed to be close to Modi.

How do Ambani, Adani stand to gain?

Ambani and Adani have lately been eyeing India’s farm sector.

In 2017, Ambani shared his ambitions to invest in the agriculture sector. At present, his Jio Platforms is banking on a partnership with Facebook to expand into the agritech domain with the JioKrishi app, which will facilitate a farm-to-fork supply chain. The company is said to have sourced 77% of its fruit directly from farmers.

The protesting farmers believe that the new laws have been drafted to facilitate ease of doing business for such large corporations, eliminating safeguards for farmers and leaving them vulnerable.

Political voices have also grown against the farm laws, alleging that they will benefit Adani and Ambani and not the farmers.

The new laws allow market forces to venture freely into the farm sector in India, which is heavily regulated by the government.

Currently, farmers take their produce to wholesale markets or mandis governed by the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC). The APMC in every state decides the prices it will pay the producers, and then sells them further. These markets also became nodal points for government procurement of foodgrains. One of the new laws aims to abort this entire network. Under the new rule, a trader can approach any farmer across the country and buy their produce, at whatever price they agree upon.

Arguing that the farm laws will lead to economic prosperity, the government has said that the participation of private players will put the farmers directly in touch with them, and they can potentially negotiate higher rates and control the narrative.

Farmers do not agree.

On the contrary, they believe that the new process will lower the impact of minimum support price, which the government offers as a safe haven to farmers if there’s a sharp price fall during a particular season.

Another bone of contention is that the new laws do not make written contracts mandatory. So if there is a conflict, it’ll get difficult for a small farmer to prove that the agreement has been breached. Another devil that lies in the details of the farm laws is the provision that in case of any dispute, farmers cannot take their cases to a regular court. Instead, they can seek out a  conciliation board, a district-level administrative officers or an appellate authority.

Farmers argue that these local authorities are part of the government system and aren’t independent like the judiciary. Therefore, they fear that these authorities would tilt in favour of the corporations.

Indian farmers and global protests

The farmers, who have said they are willing to protest for six months or more if needed, have started gaining international support.

On Dec. 6, Scotland Yard reportedly made a number of arrests after hundreds of protestors gathered outside the Indian High Commission in central London, demonstrating against agricultural reforms in India.

Image for article titled Why Indian farmers believe new laws are rigged to favour India’s richest man
Image: REUTERS/Toby Melville
Image for article titled Why Indian farmers believe new laws are rigged to favour India’s richest man
Image: REUTERS/Toby Melville

Many celebrities and pop artists from Punjab have also come out in support of the farmers.

On Dec. 5, Bollywood actor and Punjabi singer Diljit Dosanjh visited the protesting farmers at Singhu border near Delhi.

Earlier, Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau had also extended his support for the farmers in India.

Today (Dec. 8), the protesting farmers have called for a nationwide strike. The demand also gathered support from various opposition parties, including the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Indian National Congress. The shutdown that came into effect from 11 am will continue till 3 pm today. Banking services across the country will continue working unhindered and emergency services like ambulances will also not be stopped.

Meanwhile, AAP has alleged that its leader and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal has been placed under “house arrest” by the city’s police (which is controlled by the Union government) ever since he met with the protesting farmers on Dec. 7. Delhi Police has denied the claims.

The government is expected to have a fresh round of talks with the protesting farmers on Dec. 9 to resolve the deadlock. So far, a total of five rounds of talks have happened between the centre and the farmers, all of which were inconclusive.