Indian Agricultural Acts & Why it Matters

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By Tsring Dolma

Published March 18, 2021

In September 2020, the new Agriculture Acts were passed by India’s Parliament. In response, thousands of protesters took to the streets of New Delhi to call for the repeal of these acts. Protesters broke through police barricades with their tractors and brought weapons, such as tridents and battle axes. The Police carried assault rifles and directed them at the crowds. 

 

Many of these protesting farmers are of the Sikh religion–a religious minority in India–and originate from Punjab, Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh. 

 

With the continuing opposition between both parties, it seems as though these protests will never cease. Here’s what you need to know.

Background

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During the 1960s, India was struggling to provide enough food for its citizens. Several droughts made this even worse, which caused severe famine amidst the country’s growing population. To address these problems, the government commenced the use of modern agricultural technologies- referred to as the Green Revolution- to prevent future famines. Farmers overused chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and irrigation systems, which caused extensive sectors of infertile land. Many crops began diminishing but rice and wheat production soared, providing a foothold for India’s economy. 

 

Currently, India is experiencing a farming crisis. Since the Green Revolution, agriculture has gone from accounting for nearly 41% in 1973 to hardly 16% in 2019. This means that millions of farmers are struggling to make ends meet in this diminishing economy. Half of India’s Agricultural Households are in debt. And, this institutional debt has contributed to an epidemic of farmer suicides. 

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According to the statistics, of the National Crime Records Bureau, in 2019, nearly 10,281 farmers and laborers committed suicide. Experts have said that rates could be much higher since suicide is deemed taboo in India. 


 

Mr. Singh’s son committed suicide by putting himself on the path of a moving tractor after their fields were consumed entirely by insects. “He was just 23,” said Mr. Singh while pointing to a framed picture of his son.

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Mr. Singh is burdened by the debt of $20,000 that's been developing over the years to tend his farm. On a June evening, he walked beside his dried-up field, “Have you ever heard of a politician or an industrialist committing suicide?” he questioned. “It’s always a farmer or a laborer.” In his village, suicide is a common theme, “We are left with no tears. It has turned our hearts to stone." 

 

Farmers have been demanding reforms for decades now. Yet, rather than the government listening to their cries, they have neglected this vulnerable community and implemented a law that oppresses these farmers.

The Agriculture Laws

The widespread farmer protest is against the 3 acts–the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce Bill, Farmer’s Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Service Bill, and the Essential Commodities Bill. The purpose of these laws is to deregulate markets and provide a legal structure for contract farming. Prime Minister Modi assumes that these acts are viewed as historic and profitable for the farmers, commending that, “ With the passing of the (farm) bills in the Parliament, farmers will get freedom from this. With this, the efforts to double farmers’ income will get strength and their prosperity could be ensured.” 

 

The first of the three acts, the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce Bill, creates a system where farmers and traders have the autonomy to sell and purchase products outside the registered mandis. It reduces marketing and transportation costs and enables farmers to acquire reasonable prices outside of these registered markets.  

 

The second act, the Farmer’s Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Service Bill, allows farmers to enter into contracts with agribusiness firms, wholesalers, and exporters for the sale of produce at a pre-established price, reducing the cost of marketing and raising farmers income. 

 

The third act, the Essential Commodities Bill, creates a competitive market environment and cuts the waste of farm produce. Also, this bill attracts FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) into farm sectors and eliminates the concern of private investor's interference in business plans. 

 

Instead of the farmers displaying the reaction that Prime Minister Modi expected, they are furious. One of the protesters has stated, “Once it all fails, the corporate will start dictating prices. Slowly they will increase the prices and will take over the mandis.”

Why Are Farmers Protesting?

There is a growing concern about these three laws enacted by the government. The government states these new policies would bring growth. However, farmers worry that removing state protections would leave them at the mercy of large corporations. Allowing private businesses to exploit them in negotiating for lower prices of goods than the pre-contract arrangements. Some think that these new laws will pave the way for the government to eliminate the MSP (Minimum Support Price) system, which is integral because farmers fear that this will allow corporations to easily exploit them in the absence of this system. 

 

Farmers have insisted that they are even struggling with the existing protections. They say that these laws will eliminate the support they would need to maintain their fields and leave them to suffer from the weakened economy, giving little chance of a better future. 

 

In November, angered farmers drove their tractors into police barricades along New Delhi’s borders. Several marched to the city, where the violence began, with the police launching tear gas and water cannons amongst the protesters to stop them from entering the capital.

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These protests extended till December, gaining a mass of 100,000 supporters along Delhi’s borders. Though these protests were entirely peaceful, there were some brief moments of violence with the police.  The government has gained blame for how they responded to these protests. They temporarily suspended internet services across the areas where the protests were occurring and employed even more officers to control the opposing side. 

 

“Even when someone breaks a bird’s nest, the bird makes noise." The closing remarks of a protester.

Singh, Karan Deep. “'The Lockdown Killed My Father': Farmer Suicides Add to India's Virus Misery.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 8 Sept. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/09/08/world/asia/india-coronavirus-farmer-suicides-lockdown.html

Mashal, Mujib, and Sameer Yasir. “Modi's Response to Farmer Protests in India Stirs Fears of a Pattern.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Feb. 2021, www.nytimes.com/2021/02/03/world/asia/india-modi-farmer-protest-censorship.html

Saksham Khosla, Aidan Milliff. “Analysis | India's Farm Protests Turned Violent Last Week. But Why Are Farmers Protesting in the First Place?” The Washington Post, WP Company, 5 Feb. 2021, www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/02/05/indias-farm-protests-turned-violent-last-week-why-are-farmers-protesting-first-place/

Online, ET. “Everything You Need to Know about the Farm Laws Farmers Are Protesting Against.” The Economic Times, Economic Times, 8 Feb. 2021, economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/agriculture/everything-you-need-to-know-about-t he-new-agriculture-bills-passed-in-lok-sabha/articleshow/78183539.cms  

Yeung, Jessie. “Farmers across India Have Been Protesting for Months. Here's Why.” CNN, Cable News Network, 15 Feb. 2021, www.cnn.com/2021/02/10/asia/india-farmers-protest-explainer-intl-hnk-scli/index.html