Farmers across the country, including southern states, have voiced various concerns about the new farm laws, indicating this is not just a regional issue.
“The laws are against the farming community. We do not accept that the magnitude of our opposition is not the same as in Punjab or Haryana. It would take more time for farmers in other parts of the country to realise that the farm laws would make taking away of their land by corporates much easier,” says P R Pandian, the president of the Coordination Committee of Tamil Nadu All Farmers’ Association.
In January, Pandian led an eight-member delegation to the farmers’ protest in Delhi. He says the lack of participation of Tamil Nadu’s farmers at the protest in Delhi does not indicate they are in favour of the bill.
Maharashtra, which has seen agricultural reforms in recent years, has seen a big representation at the farmers’ protest in Delhi.
The farmers’ movement in Maharashtra was renewed, after images of blistered and bleeding feet of farmers taking part in protest in Mumbai in 2018 went viral.
On January 26 this year, over 15,000 farmers marching under the banner of Samyukta Kisan Morcha converged at the historic Azad Maidan in Mumbai and were joined by several leaders of the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi government.
No solution in sight
Kishore Tiwari, the founder of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, based in Yavatmal, says there is an increasingly diminishing return from agriculture and poor government policies, strained natural resources and unstable market are affecting the farmers — yet, the government has failed to come up with any meaningful alternative to this agrarian crisis.
Even in Kerala, a state where the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees are not in place, a large section of farmers is aggrieved over the laws, with concerns of corporate monopoly in agriculture.
The Kerala Pineapple Farmers’ Association president James George said that even as the new farm laws look good at first, some clauses could affect farmers. The prescribed ‘quality clause’ in contract farming could be detrimental to some growers. And while allowing farmers to sell their produce anywhere sounded good, George asked what about the transport facilities, especially for small farmers.
Pandian explains that while the agricultural markets are run by farmers and traders in Punjab and Haryana, in Tamil Nadu, the state government runs the agricultural markers through cooperatives. “The moment the markets slip out of the state government’s control, there will be protests in Tamil Nadu too. Farmers will protest only when it hits them. We are clear that these farm laws are not in favour of farmers,” he said.
Another farmer association leader said the farm laws will facilitate the “back door” entry of corporates in the field of agriculture. “When such things occur, we won’t even have right over the water,” he said.
Kerala recently announced minimum support price (MSP) for 16 crops (fruits and vegetables). According to Kerala agriculture department sources, so far 65,000 farmers have registered for the scheme and the total claims for MSP received so far was around Rs 6 crore. However, officials at the grassroots say that many farmers are yet to avail the scheme due to technical constraints and lack of awareness.
However, the farmers from Andhra Pradesh, who have never really tasted the benefits of a properly functioning APMC system, have largely remained neutral towards the protests.
Ch Subba Rao, a farmer from Kandrika, a village in Guntur district, explains how he prefers selling to the brokers for a slightly lower price than to the yard.
“We mostly sell our produce to the traders, dealers at a price we assume is remunerative. As of now, we did not experience anything dreadful with the new farm laws,” says Ch Subba Rao.
Experts say that most of the over 200 APMC yards in the state are unregulated, and are primarily engaged in the collection of marketing cess on agri produce in their jurisdiction.
Farmers here complain about the well-stablished syndicates of traders, commission agents operating at the APMC yards, “forbidding the farmers from selling independently and denying the rightful price.”
“The yards charge a double commission from us than what they take from the traders,” the Kandrika farmers say.
However, the common fear is that these private operators could form a cartel, manipulate the open procurement market, and refuse to pay MSP.
P Lavanya, the regional deputy director in the Agricultural Marketing Department in Kadapa, AP, says “We act on complaints we receive and if found guilty of unfair practices, we cancel the licenses of such agents and traders. But most of the time, the farmers are unwilling to complain.”
(Writing from Thiruvananthapuram, Chennai, Mumbai and Hyderabad)