The farmers’ agitation against farm laws

The farmers’ agitation against the farm laws, enacted by the Centre in late September despite stiff opposition, has entered a potentially make-or-break phase. Even as the Union Government has invited farmers’ organisations to the Capital for talks on December 3, the protesters — predominantly from Punjab — are bent on taking out a two-day ‘Delhi Chalo’ march. Fearing a massive influx of farmers, the BJP-led government in Haryana has sealed the state’s border with Punjab and imposed Section 144 of the CrPC, besides swooping down on kisan leaders. The developments have raised the spectre of a nasty showdown, pitting the BJP against the farming community as well as the Opposition.
Punjab and Haryana farmers protesting in Delhi on Friday got support from their counterparts in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand, who will join the stir in the next few days, farmer leaders from these states said. Protests were observed on Friday in Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh as well. There could be a possible stand-off on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh interstate border on Saturday as farmers from UP, Uttarakhand and MP will try to enter the Capital from there.
The sheer disconnect between the two sides has been a major obstacle. The protesters have tried to dictate their terms to the Centre, taking a call on which trains would ply and which won’t. The railway authorities, in turn, insisted on unrestricted and unconditional passage for all trains. Both the state government and the Railways incurred heavy losses due to the disruption of rail services. Earlier this week, the farmer bodies did make a concession, albeit for a 15-day period, ending the two-month-long suspension of train movement that had hit the supply of coal, fertilisers and other essential goods to Punjab.
The Centre’s reform package is a sincere attempt to improve private participation in the farm trade. Hopes of doubling farm incomes rest on the success of these fledglings reforms and other advances like direct benefit transfer, cold chain networks and crop diversification schemes. Most farmers, of whom 86% fall in the small and marginal category, aren’t benefiting from MSPs, which has prompted the Centre to tackle cartelisation in mandis and ease private and corporate trade in the hope that more buyers at farmgate will translate to better prices.
But the agitations in Punjab and Haryana, which boast of entrenched public procurement of crops, have been a speedbreaker. After battling teargas shells and water cannons for hours on Friday at the Delhi-Haryana border in Sonipat and Jhajjar, thousands of farmers from Punjab and Haryana were allowed in the evening to enter through the Tikri border and hold their protest at Burari in north-west Delhi against the three newly enacted farm laws -- 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 -- passed by Parliament in its monsoon session. Centre and state governments must work together to handhold farmers through this big shift, which can prove just as momentous and fruitful as the Green Revolution.

- Prabhakar Purandare

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