Explained: Why are the Farmers from Punjab and Haryana Protesting in Delhi?
More than three lakh protesters - about two lakh from Punjab alone - have reached the borders of Delhi, trundling through the chilly nights.
Agitating farmers from Haryana and Punjab have called for a two-day strike for November 26 and 27, in protest against the Centre's new farm laws.
The groups of protestors are not limited to farmers alone but comprise children, women and senior citizens, who are travelling to the national capital in tractors, carrying all essentials including ration to last for half a year.
"It is expected that more than 50,000 farmers will be standing at the Delhi border by today (27th November) evening. The numbers are expected to swell through the night as thousands of tractors and trolleys are carrying farmers, women and children from the interior areas of Punjab," read a statement from Samyukt Kisan Morcha and All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee.
Farmers have said that they have come prepared to continue their protest until the Centre's three laws that leave them vulnerable to big corporate houses are completely repealed.
They continue their march relentlessly, defying tear gases, water cannons in the middle of the chilly north Indian nights, overcoming barricades and confronting the forces.
According to a joint statement released by Samyukt Kisan Morcha and All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), farmers in and around Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Haryana are preparing for massive protests in their villages and government offices, to move into Delhi to demand that the central government withdraws the three farm laws and the Electricity Bill, 2020, reported national media.
Already 750 farmers have been arrested in Delhi while marching towards Rajghat. Separate rallies from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Uttarakhand have also been spotted, marching to Delhi. Further, 90 farmer leaders have also been taken into preventive custody in the last two days.
In Delhi, the police sought permission from the Delhi government to convert nine stadiums into temporary prisons, to accommodate the detained farmers.
What are the farmers demanding?
1. The major demand of the protestors is the annulment of the three agricultural reform bills passed in the Monsoon Session of the Lok Sabha.
The three bills are:
a) The Farmer's Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, that allows farmers and traders to sell and purchase farm produce outside state registered 'mandis', promote inter-state trade of farm products, reduce transportation and marketing charges and provides for electronic trading.
b)The Farmer (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, that provides for large business houses like agribusiness firms, processors, wholesalers, exporters or large retailers to book the future produce of farmers at pre-booked prices. The bill intends to facilitate aggregation and contracts to marginal and small scale farmers, with less than five hectares of land. Reportedly, such farmers account for 86% of the farmer population of India.
c) The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, that remove commodities like cereals, pulses, oilseeds, onion and potatoes from the list of essential commodities, thus doing away with the imposition of stockholding limits except under "extraordinary circumstances.”
Farmers have opined that big corporates like exporters and processors will have an edge over the farmers in contract farming, the latter being the weaker players. Removing cereals, onions and potatoes from essential items means that companies are free to stock and dictate the farmers thus lessening the earnings of the cultivators.
2. Secondly, the farmers are demanding the assurance of continuation of minimum support price (MSP) and the conventional food grain procurement system by the government even in the future, that too in the form of a bill.
3. Cultivators have demanded the repealing of the Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2020, as they believe that the amendment promotes privatisation, and upon privatisation, free power supply provided to the farmers will be discontinued.
The new Farm Bill which was passed in Parliament recently aims to do away with the role of middleman and government in selling farmers’ produce in a similar manner and wants to empower farmers to sell their produce directly to markets of their own wish.
Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMCs) were set up with the objective of ensuring fair trade between buyers and sellers for effective price recovery of farmers’ produce. APMCs can regulate the trade of farmers’ produce by providing licences to buyers, commission agents and private markets; levy market fees or any other charges on such trade, and provide necessary infrastructure within their markets to facilitate the trade.
Centre fails to pacify the farmers
Even after two rounds of talk with the leaders of the various farmers' unions, the discussions have remained inconclusive and the central government has failed to pacify the agitating farmers. The next round of talks is scheduled for 3rd December.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had earlier asserted that the farm reform bills were the need of 21st century India and reassured farmers that the government purchase of their produce coupled with the minimum support price (MSP) mechanism will continue in the future. But the cultivators have refused to take even the PM at face-value and have demanded MSP to be made into a legal right.
Critics view the dismantling of the monopoly of the APMCs as a sign of ending the assured procurement of food grains at minimum support prices (MSP). To the Centre’s “One Nation, One Market” call, critics have sought “One Nation, One MSP.”
In Assam, when the prices of onions and potatoes surged high recently, the Food and Civil Supplies Department attributed the exclusion of these from the essential commodities list as a major cause. Officials were noted saying, “This has pushed onions and potato traders outside any department's radar thus helping them in manipulating prices freely. It is no longer under our department to regulate prices."
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