‘Half-hearted’: Despite BJD’s opposition to twin farm bills, Odisha farmer leaders aren’t impressed

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A day after Biju Janata Dal opposed the twin bills on farming in Rajya Sabha, arguing that it did not have any provisions for small and marginal farmers, several farmer leaders in the state alleged that the party’s opposition was half-hearted and it was indulging in doublespeak.

The BJD on Sunday had opposed the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 and Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of the Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, alleging that it had little provision for small and marginal farmers as well as sharecroppers. “We can’t support the bill till we are sure that farmers’ interest will be protected,” said BJD leader and Rajya Sabha member Prasanna Acharya.

Incidentally, the party had not supported the bill in the Lok Sabha as there was no voting on it with party MP Anubhav Mohanty urging the government to send the bills to select committee of the House. In the Rajya Sabha too, where the party has nine parliamentarians, there was no voting.

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BJD’s opposition to the twin farm bills came as a surprise to several political analysts who were taken aback by the party’s stand considering that the party had supported the NDA on CAA, demonetisation, revocation of Article 370 and Triple Talaq Bill.

Political analysts Satya Prakash Dash of Sambalpur University said BJD’s opposition to the central bill was a clever ploy to guard its support among farming community who have supported it over the years. “As close to 70 percent of the state’s population are farmers and many of them are BJD’s supporters, the party perhaps wanted to send a message that it is ready to oppose the BJP when it comes to agriculture,” said Dash.

But despite the party’s opposition to the twin farm bills, farmer leaders did not seem to be impressed with the BJD’s stand with many of them calling it a half-hearted attempt. “The Odisha Agricultural Produce and Livestock Contract Farming and Services (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020 which is almost similar to the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 was brought in at least three weeks before the central ordinance. The BJP and the BJD are hand in glove when it comes to sacrificing the interest of farmers at the altar of the marketplace,” said Lingaraj, convenor of Paschim Odisha Krushak Sangathan Samanwaya Samiti, an umbrella body of various farmer organisations.

Lingaraj said while the central Act ensures that no market fee, cess levy can be collected from farmers, traders and e-trading platform for the trade of scheduled farmers produce in the trade area, the Odisha ordinance(to be brought in as bill in the coming monsoon session) has provision of market committee collecting fee on notified commodities within the market yard. “The most important part is both the state and central ordinances and Acts support contract farming which would prove to be harmful for farmers of the state,” he said.

Another farmer leader Akshay Kumar of Navanirman Krushan Sangathan said on principle both the BJP and the BJD are on the same page when it came to contract farming. “For the last several years, Odisha has been trying to get contract farming knowing that it would not be beneficial to small and marginal farmers. Yet they brought in an ordinance and now would make it an Act. There is not much to choose between the two parties when farmers’ interest is concerned,” said Kumar.

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Noted farmer leader Ashok Pradhan of Sambalpur said BJD’s opposition to the bill did not carry any meaning as the party has hardly done anything for the farmers in last 20 years of its rule. “BJD is also bringing two bills on farming that are in essence similar to central ones. When the BJD brought in the two ordinances in May this year we had warned of its disastrous consequences. While northern Indian states have some sorts of infrastructure for farmers, Odisha farmers do not have that luxury. The central Act, as well as the Odisha ordinances, would not help the farmers here anyway. The BJD opposition looks like some kind of deal,” said Pradhan.

Pradhan further said in the last many years, many paddy farmers of Odisha do not get the minimum support price despite the state government’s regular announcement. Unlike northern and central states, Odisha farmers don’t get any bonus. “Farming is totally unremunerative and there is no incentive for farmers. The central Act, as well as the proposed Odisha Bill on farming, would ensure big business houses would make the farmers agricultural labourers in their own fields,” he said.

Agriculture expert Devjit Sarangi, who has studied the central bill, as well as the Odisha ordinance, said a farmer can enter into a written farming agreement for any farming produce as per central bill, the proposed Odisha Bill has similar provisions. “The Odisha one only talks about state government collecting a facilitation fee of maximum 4 percent from the corporate houses that come for contract farming while there are no such features in the central bill. But if one looks at the central and state laws, there is hardly any difference,” he said.

The Odisha Agricultural Produce and Livestock Contract Farming and Services (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020, promulgated by the state government on May 13, aims at registration of farmers with contract farming companies for improving production and productivity by way of land, soil management, seeds, saplings, fingerlings, inputs, feed and fodder, technology and other such services. The ordinance covers sale and purchase of 50 varieties of plant produce and 5 varieties of animal produce.

The Odisha ordinance, like the central bill, would provide for geographically restriction-free trade and transaction of agricultural produce, including livestock, across the State and country to give freedom to the farmers to sell their produce in a better manner.

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