Under A Dark Cloud

Written by Binoy Viswam

September 28, 2020 4:03:40 am

farm bills, farmer protests, farmer protests across India, farmer protests Punjab, Haryana farmer protests, Parliament Monsoon Session, Express Opinion, Indian ExpressProtesting farmers blocks NH-1 near Ladowal toll plaza in Ludhiana on Friday during a “Chakka jam” against three farm bills. (Express Photo by Gurmeet Singh/File)This monsoon session of Parliament will forever be remembered for the draconian pieces of legislation that turned India’s farmers and workers into slaves of capitalist greed. The propaganda machine of the BJP has been in overdrive to whitewash the evil content of these laws. But it failed to convince even the party’s closest allies.

In its enthusiasm to pass the bills, the government blatantly violated parliamentary norms and rules of procedure in both Houses. The basic principle of a vibrant democracy ensures the vitality of the Opposition as they represent a different view from that of the government and act as a safeguard to represent the often-suppressed voices of the people. In the Monsoon Session, especially in the Rajya Sabha, the ruling party was extra cautious to bypass the Opposition, maybe because of their uncertainty regarding the often “managed” majority. Some of their most trusted allies chose to support the farmers and workers instead of the government.

Rule 252 of the Rajya Sabha Rulebook clearly states that it is the right of any member to ask for a vote by “division”. Unfortunately, the rules and traditions of democracy held little value. The arrogance of the ruling party reached its zenith as it twisted the narrative and eight Rajya Sabha MPs were suspended.

The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Prices Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, sounded the death knell for the Indian farmer as these effectively open up the entire agricultural sector to large agri-businesses while leaving farmers in the lurch. The institutionalisation of contract farming is a noose around the neck of farmers — 86.2 per cent of whom own less than five acres of land.

The government claims it is empowering these farmers to sell their produce freely, but one must ask how fair and free this trade will be when large agri-businesses come to negotiate. The experience of farmers, both locally and internationally, where corporatisation in the agricultural sector has been enforced, is disturbing. In Bihar, which abolished the APMC system in 2006, small and marginal farmers have been left to the mercy of traders and private players as government procurement remains low and private investment for the creation of new markets scant. The 2019 case by PepsiCo against nine potato farmers in Ahmedabad claiming damages of Rs 1 crore serves as a reminder of the fate of farmers in a corporatised agricultural sector. In Brazil and Mexico, corporatisation of agriculture has left millions of farmers struggling to survive while large corporations reap the rewards of the farmers’ labour.

The three labour codes passed by Parliament — industrial relations, social security and the occupational safety, health and working conditions codes — follow a similar ideology of favouring private capital over the rights of workers. From the restriction of the definition of the term “worker” to exclude and disenfranchise platform workers, to the war on unions, and the assault on job security via the normalisation of fixed-term contracts, the government’s anti-worker agenda is laid bare. The deregulation of occupational safety, health and working conditions is especially critical in a scenario where more than 40,000 deaths are estimated to take place at worksites every year in India. For the over 90 per cent of the workforce that operates in the informal sector, the linking of social benefits to the size of the establishment will leave out millions. The “hire and fire” culture being promoted by these pieces of legislation is a direct threat to the lives and livelihoods of workers. The rights of workers that the Indian labour movement has struggled for since before Independence have been undone.

Land, labour and capital form the three pillars of production. The anti-farmer laws will take away the farmers’ unquestionable control over land as their authority on the produce is nullified due to pre-existing contracts with corporates. The labour codes entrench the power of private capital over labour and ensure that collective bargaining is systematically undermined. But then, it is natural for a government that holds privatisation and corporatisation as a “silver bullet” to all economic problems to enact policies that benefit only the rich and powerful.

The writer is secretary, National Council, CPI and leader of the party in Parliament

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