No solution in sight to Indian farmers’ protests - GulfToday

No solution in sight to Indian farmers’ protests

BRP Bhaskar

@brpbhaskar

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian journalist with over 50 years of newspaper, news agency and television experience.

Indian-Farmers

Photo used for illustrative purpose.

Last September the Narendra Modi government pushed through Parliament a set of three laws, billed as a farm sector reforms package. A year later they remain unimplemented, not to say unimplementable. Thereby hangs a tale.

The government had enacted the laws without prior consultations with the stakeholders.

When the measures were before Parliament, farmers in Punjab and neighbouring Haryana, who were in the forefront of India’s Green Revolution, made known their opposition to them. The government ignored it.

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s oldest ally, the Akali Dal, which draws support mainly from the Sikh peasantry, conveyed the farmers’ concerns to Modi. He did not address them. To safeguard its base, the Dal pulled out its representative from the government.

Since the Centre paid no attention to their low-key protests, farmers decided to take the battle to the national capital. Overcoming all hurdles put up by Haryana’s BJP government on the highways, an estimated 500,000 people, including family members of farmers, reached Delhi’s borders in trucks and tractors on November 26.

Since the police barred their entry into Delhi they began an epic struggle, camping on the highways braving the elements. It is now in its tenth month. According to the farmers’ unions, 477 protesters died in the first six months. The figure includes 31 suicides.

In reply to a question, the government told Parliament it was not keeping count of the dead.

As the agitation prolonged, many farmers went home to work on the farms but the number of people left at the protest sites is still too large to be evicted forcibly without inflicting an unacceptable level of casualties.

Initially, the government refused to talk to the farmers’ unions. But public pressure compelled it to rethink.  

However, 11 rounds of talks proved fruitless. Farmers would not settle for anything less than repeal of the three laws. The farthest the government was willing to go was to hold them in abeyance for 18 months.

A few petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the farm laws are before the Supreme Court. Instead of hearing the petitioners, the last Chief Justice, SA Bobde, tried to find a solution through mediation. The move collapsed as farmers’ representatives refused to meet the court-appointed mediators, all of whom were supporters of the laws.

Subsequently the Court stayed implementation of the laws and set up a three-member committee to study and report on the laws.

 As a result of the stay ordered by the court, the government is unable to introduce the contemplated reforms.

The government claims the laws will eliminate the exploitative middleman and raise the income of the farmers. A key element of the reform is the provision permitting corporate entities to market farm produce. Farmers fear corporates will be more rapacious than the traditional middlemen.

Corporate giant Ambani was in negotiations with a section of farmers in Karnataka to buy their produce when the stay order came.

Farmers’ unions are now organising conventions in BJP-ruled states which are due to go to the polls early next year to mobilise public opinion against the governments.

Last week the unions succeeded in forcing the Haryana government to order a judicial inquiry into an attack on a farmers’ rally in Karnal after sending on leave an officer who had allegedly ordered cops to break the demonstrators’ heads.    

Early this month Anil J Ghanwat, who was a member of the panel set up by the Supreme Court to study the farm laws, urged Chief Justice NV Ramana to release the report it had submitted five months ago. He told a news agency the panel had not recommended repeal of the laws but it had addressed the farmers’ concerns. The CJI has not acted on the suggestion.

Both the Executive and the Judiciary appear to have painted themselves into a corner. This is not a happy situation. It needs to be remedied.

Modi’s farm reform ideas are based on the globalisation programme. He must be willing to make suitable changes in the package acknowledging the fact that, unlike in the developed West, in India nearly half the population still depend upon agriculture for livelihood.

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