Bills framed as helping the country's farmers . . .
The Indian government, in an attempt to revive its archaic agriculture system and boost economic recovery through agricultural reform, has passed three bills that have in turn provoked controversy over their underlying motivations and their possible effects on farmers. Taken together, the three bills are intended to allow farmers to sell their products in places other than the state Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs)-regulated markets, empower them to enter into direct contractual agreements with buyers, and remove all agricultural commodities from the list of essential commodities, thereby achieving price stability and benefitting consumers.
Protests against the bills . . .
Protests by farmers’ organizations, opposition parties, and state governments (primarily in Punjab and Haryana) have been simmering since June, when the bills were originally passed as ordinances. The central government has been accused of rushing the bills through Parliament, deferring to a voice vote rather than a physical ballot. Opposing parties, meanwhile, object to several related issues, including ending the central government’s minimum support price for farmers, the redundancy of state-controlled APMCs, and concerns that the bills will reduce farmers’ bargaining power. Other critics describe the bills as usurping states’ powers, since agriculture has traditionally fallen to state governments to manage.
The impacts on farmers . . .
Views on whether the farm bills will help or hurt farmers are split. On one side are those who see the reforms as a “watershed moment” for Indian agriculture, liberalizing the farm market and giving farmers the opportunity to raise their incomes by bypassing the APMC-regulated markets and selling directly to the private sector. On the other side are those who view these bills as exploiting farmers, leaving them vulnerable to large corporations in a liberalized farm market. There are also concerns about the lack of clarity over how the bills will play out in practice, including how farmers will get the information they need to decide whether to sell outside of APMC markets. Whether the bills ultimately help or hurt farmers will become evident as the impacts of the reforms unfold in the coming months.