Explainer: Why are farmers protesting?

A committee, headed by former agriculture secretary Sanjay Agarwal, that was set up on July 18, 2022 following the withdrawal of the three agri bills is yet to submit report despite holding six main meetings and 31 sub-group meetings/workshops.

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Farm Protest

NEW DELHI: Farmers  — organised under the Samyukta Kisan Morcha and the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha, supported by over 200 farm unions  — are set to march to Delhi on February 13, urging the Centre to address their various demands.

The protesting farmers, primarily from Punjab and Haryana, are expected to begin their journey to Delhi on Monday. 

We explain what, how and whys of it; what they gained from last protest when three agri bills were withdrawn and what the renewed protest means for forthcoming Lok Sabha polls.

DELHI CHALO: WHAT GOES ON 

Ahead of the farmers' 'Delhi Chalo March', the Delhi Police intensified security arrangements at Singhu, Ghazipur and Tikri borders even as farmers' leader Jagjit Singh Dallewal slammed the Haryana government for making heavy security arrangements at the Punjab-Haryana borders and "harassing" farmers who wanted to join the 'Delhi Chalo' march. 

On the one side, the government is holding dialogue with farmers and on the other hand heavy barricading has been done at the Punjab-Haryana borders, Dallewal said, alleging that many agriculturists, who came from other states including Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh to support the 'Delhi Chalo' march, were detained and sought their release.

Even as stringent security measures and restrictions have been implemented in the national capital and along the Delhi-Haryana and Haryana-Punjab borders, the Haryana government has imposed Section 144 of the CrPC, prohibiting the assembly of five or more people. 

MSP+ STANDOFF

Farmers' demands include the implementation of a law guaranteeing a minimum support price (MSP) for crops. 

Besides MSP, the farmers also demand the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission's recommendations, pensions for farmers and farm labourers, farm debt waiver, withdrawal of police cases, and justice for victims of the Lakhimpur Kheri violence.

Abhimanyu Kohar, a prominent farmer leader and spokesman of Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) (apolitical), told Business Standard, “We will have a second round of discussion with the central ministers tomorrow in Chandigarh, but in the meantime, our preparations for the February 13 march are in full swing with thousands of tractors ready to march towards the national capital.” 

Meanwhile, Union ministers Piyush Goyal, Anjun Munda and Nityanand Rai were scheduled to hold another round of talks with leaders of farmers' unions in Chandigarh on Monday.

The first meeting was held on Thursday. 

SWAMINATHAN FORMULA

While the farmers seek a legal guarantee of the MSP, the Centre has announced MSP for 22 mandated crops on the basis of the recommendations of the Commision for Agricultural Costs and Prices. 

The unions have also demanded a legal guarantee of MSP on the recommendations of the Swaminathan Committee's C2+50% formula.  

In November 2021, the National Democratic Alliance, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, announced the withdrawal of the three farm bills: the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act 2020; and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

While no official reason had been cited, the decision had come just ahead of the winter session of Parliament that was scheduled to commence on November 29.

In the last session of Parliament, the opposition had attacked the government strongly over the laws, and it led to acrimony and impacted the functioning of the Houses.

A committee, headed by former agriculture secretary Sanjay Agarwal, that was set up on July 18, 2022 following the withdrawal of the three agri bills to deliberate on several issues including making the MSP “more effective and transparent” is yet to submit report despite holding six main meetings and 31 sub-group meetings/workshops. 

Though Swaminathan got the Bharat Ratna this year among five BRs in the poll season, his report is yet to see the light. 

'FINAL REPORT MONTHS AWAY'

Meanwhile, the final report on farm laws will only be ready in a few months, said a member of the panel.

The member who did not wish to be named, has told Mint, "The committee that was constituted two years ago to address farmers’ grievances, including on minimum support prices (MSP), is trying to forge a consensus at the earliest. Because of the delay, farmers from Punjab and Haryana are planning to march to Delhi on Tuesday."

“Not only farmers but also other entities such as consumers, industry, and the inter-secure linkages are involved. When a committee comes out with a report, they must address micro and macro issues,” Mint quoted the member as saying on Monday.

(PUNJAB) POLITICS IN POLL SEASON 

Meanwhile, Punjab CM Bhagwant Mann, seeking a 13-0 verdict in Lok Sabha polls, has cautioned against erecting a border between Punjab and India, urging the Centre to have a dialogue with farmers. 

Reacting to the Haryana government’s efforts to erect heavy fencing along NHs and other roads at the Punjab border, Mann said, “What is happening in Haryana? Please avoid creating an India-Punjab border.”

Ahead of the Lok Sabha poll season, Mann castigated the Centre raking up the wheat, rice and Agniveers issues.  

The Indian Express quoted him as saying, “When it comes to wheat and rice, where would you go? The borders open during those times. We have been providing you with food, filling your stomachs. We have made significant contributions to the freedom struggle. Our soldiers are standing on the border. Yet, no respect (salute) is given to some martyrs because they are Agniveers.”

With the LS polls looming, will it a be tightrope walk or cakewalk for the NDA government, with farmers bent on putting pressure while the government  — despite an Ayodhya-Ram temple induced popularity wave — will find it tough to tide over the farm revolt especially from Punjab and Delhi, which may make the going tough for it even as Haryana CM ML Khattar tries his best to look in total control. 

According to Mint, there were mainly three interlinked concerns voiced by farmers during their prolonged protest, which forced the government to repeal three farm laws that had been enacted in 2020. 

Farmers want to ensure that government procurement and MSPs are continued; that the system of MSP itself is made legally enforceable; and that vulnerable small and marginal farmers are protected against large private players. 

With the game stuck where it began, things don’t look good for the NDA government where farmers are concerned. 

The farm laws not only led to rupture of BJP's 24-year-old poll alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which had walked out of the NDA government in September 2020, but also made it the target of the wrath of the Sikh peasantry in rural Punjab. 

Besides, some of the SKM constituents are known to harbour political ambitions and are likely to be wooed by the Congress and the AAP. 

Hence farmer unions will again be an X-factor this too.