Farmer protests that erupted in Punjab and Haryana have already spread to parts of Uttar Pradesh. In the coming days they could expand to other states as well. This is because farmers are angry over three ordinances that the government is likely to promulgate and pass through the two Houses of the Parliament — Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020 and The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance — in the monsoon session which begins on Monday.
The government claims that these ordinances will help farmers get better prices for their crops, by legalising contract farming, for instance. A release issued by the Prime Minister's office earlier in June this year claimed that these ordinances will give farmers "the freedom to produce, hold, move, distribute and supply and will lead to harnessing of economies of scale and attract private sector/foreign direct investment into agriculture sector. It will help drive up investment in cold storages and modernisation of food supply chain."
However, farmers who have been protesting against these ordinances for several weeks now claim that the ordinances will 'corporatise' the agriculture sector and further cripple them financially. To protest against this move various farmer bodies have planned huge protests across the country on September 14, on the first day of the monsoon session of the Parliament. Already tractor rallies have been taken out in parts of Punjab and Haryana, and farmers were planning to march down to Parliament street against this move, which they have now scaled down to a small number given the fresh outbreak of Coronavirus cases.
It was in protest against this move that farmers were agitating in Haryana's Pipli by blocking the Delhi Ambala highway. The situation turned tense when police used batons to disperse the protesting farmers.
"We have given a nationwide call to farmers everywhere, in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, to come out on September 14 and voice their disapproval of the ordinances in whichever manner is appropriate within the social distancing norms put in place. The government claims that farmers are happy because of these ordinances, we fear that till now whatever little we used to get by way of Minimum Support Price, we won't get even that if agri sector is corporatised," said VM Singh, the national convenor of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC).
He said that the model of contract farming, for instance, that the government is trying to push has already been tried and tested in the sugarcane sector. "A large number of sugarcane farmers have tried this model of business and look at their state right now. They are owed thousands of crores and nobody's intervening to give them their due," Singh said.
Many agricultural experts have criticised the fine print of the ordinances. Siraj Hussain, senior visiting fellow at ICRIER and former Union Agriculture Secretary, cites the case of PepsiCo suing farmers in Gujarat as an example of how vulnerable farmers getting into contract with large corporates become. "There are apprehensions on the part of farmers to enter into contracts as they are not organised and are ill equipped for any legal battle with corporates...On the intervention of the state government, PepsiCo withdrew the cases but the incidence left a question mark over the future of contract farming in which resource-poor farmers were pitted against a powerful multinational."
Narasimha Reddy Donthi, an independent public policy reviewer, in an article in June this year said, "Despite the government’s claims, not one of these ordinances benefit farmers in any way. However, as the text in the ordinances note, they will help traders, especially big corporations. Together, these ordinances are targeted at usurping state powers, and overriding state laws and market committees.”