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Farmer Protests

This is a guest blog from Pritpal Singh Mann who did a dissertation on farmer suicides and has studied the issues concerning farming in Punjab. You can either read the blog below or watch his video https://youtu.be/zPYqAa2JGD0 where he explains the issues concerning the current farmer protests in Delhi.

Over the last few weeks farmers all across India have been protesting for their rights. There are three new laws in place which will deeply damage farmers rights. So let’s take a look at what’s been happening to farmers over the last 60 years.

Firstly, starting with the Green Revolution; this was designed with the Indian government and the American Ford Foundation. The idea behind their initiative was that farmers would have to use expensive chemical fertilizers and modified seeds which would increase the production rate of their crops. This would increase farmers’ incomes as their land would produce more crops but in reality what actually happened was farmers became poorer, getting trapped in a debt cycle because of the expensive inputs.

Secondly with the Green Revolution, Punjabi farmers scrapped their traditional harvesting methods opting for growing wheat and rice because they became the two most profitable crops. The problem with rice was Punjab had never really produced rice before the 1960s because it required a lot of water. Punjab was predominantly a wheat eating state; with more rice being produced, more water was being taken from the land which made the soil very unhealthy.

The second issue is water; in September 1960 the Indus Water Treaty was signed. After the signing, Punjab was told that surplus water was not to flow into Pakistan. The state government was informed that the water of the Ravi, Beas and Sutlej rivers was far in excess of its requirement. 75% of Punjab’s river water was diverted to non-riparian Haryana and Rajasthan. Despite Punjab diverting its waters, they didn’t get compensated; resources were being drained from Punjab without any financial reimbursement.

With the advent of The Green Revolution, Punjabi farmers started taking on more debt. This was a consequence of the wheat and rice rotation. The small and marginal farmers of Punjab, in trying to pursue environmentally and economically unsustainable agrarian practices, began accumulating high debt while lacking alternative sources of income. Since the 1970’s there has been a steady increase in the number of economically related suicides by Punjabi farmers. Originally the suicides in Punjab were linked to mental stress, most often caused by poverty and indebtedness.

The vast majority of farm loans (approx. 70%) are advanced by non-institutional lenders at a high rate of interest whilst only 30% are advanced by institutional lenders (banks and co-op societies) at a regulated rate of interest.

 SourceNo. of cases% of total cases
 Exclusively from Commission agent5467.50
 Exclusively from Institutional sources1012.50
 More than one source1613.75
 Not indebted56.25

A study conducted by H.S. Shergill (2008), unearthed the fact that the peasants of Punjab had debts of 5701 Crores during the year 1998-99; and during 2008, it touched the figure of around 30,394 Crores.

In Punjab there was no infrastructure for farmers getting appropriate loans. Farmers didn’t have the option of institutional credit, so they had to go to arthiya, who were loan sharks. The problem with loan sharks is that they can charge an extortionate interest rate, leading to more debt. These arthiya took advantage of the uneducated farmers by not giving records of how much was borrowed and how much needed to be returned. Every month they would just demand a fee and people would pay it. In 2008 it was reported that 70% of loans were from these loan sharks.

Historically there wasn’t much support for farmers available in the 1970s and 1980s; even though the Green Revolution was pushed across, there were no finances to support them. Farmers had to borrow and keep borrowing in order to keep their families healthy, fed and educate their children. That was a lot of burden on a farmer as there was only one person, predominantly a male that would go out to work and that male would only get two main sources of incomes throughout the year: April and November.

In 1994 India joined the World Trade Organization which opened up the agricultural market. Since

the 70s and 80s all the excess crops that Punjab had would be sold to other states in India. Now with the entering of the World Trade Organization, Punjabi farmers had to compete not only with Indian states but also with other countries. Farmers didn’t have the infrastructure in place to compete on a national scale nevermind on an international scale which burdened farmers even more.

The only solace that farmers had was the MSP (minimum support price) the government put in place so that farmers could sell excess crops to the state government at a fixed rate, should the harvest be successful.

Three laws were passed in September 2020 which deeply damaged farmers’ rights. Protests started immediately in the form of ‘Rail Roko’, whereby farmers blocked railway tracks preventing trains continuing their services as normal. In October between 7th and 10th, 271 trains were cancelled whilst 150 had been averted. Punjab and Haryana were the first states in India to voice their opinion, but after two months of agitation and protests, which weren’t covered by the media a new movement started, ‘Delhi Chalo’ meaning lets go to Delhi the capital to protest.

Farmers across all of India transcended on Delhi with the backing of all farmers unions, in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and more.

Which laws are they protesting?

1. Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce – This would scrap the APMC (Agricultural produce market committee) markets system. This act was established so that farmers had a specified marketplace to go to, to sell their produce for the MSP. This would be scrapped in favour for farmers to sell in any state – but how would that work? Also through the mandi fees, states collect their taxes, so this would further reduce the tax the state can collect. This will eventually lead to the MSP being scrapped.

2. The Farmer (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill – This will allow farmers to enter contracts with firms and businesses but this will bring down the price the farmers will be able to demand as the businesses will hold the power – especially with the MSP being scrapped

3. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020

This will allow limits that are put on stockholding crops to be scrapped on the listed commodities, such as potatoes, onions, cereals etc. which means that companies will be able to stockpile crops further damaging the negotiation power of the farmers

Who will this impact the most?

1. In Punjab, 75% of farmers are small farmers meaning they have less than 5 acres of land – so the only ones to profit from these new laws are the major landowners

2. This will impact farmers income even more heavily, increasing the debt cycle

3. Corporations will have no legal restrictions thereby demanding any fee, forcing the farmers into further poverty

4. Punjab’s income from tax collections will be massively damaged, especially when approx. 50% of the economy is still based on agriculture

We hope the farmers achieve their aims and the three laws are repelled to reflect their demands, protecting their livelihoods.

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