In an online interaction with Congress Party politician Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday farmers from the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, and Maharashtra among others expressed their disappointment with the farm bills passed by the Indian Parliament last week.
In his opening remarks at the event, touted as a "heart-to-heart talk with farmers", Rahul Gandhi said "During the pandemic the government should have ensured direct monetary transfer as a relief to the farmers, workers, and the poor. We need to oppose the bills not only for the sake of the farmers but also for the sake of the country".
In the interactive session, Rahul went on to ask the farmers to speak about their concerns on the farm bills passed by the Indian Parliament, which stoked the ongoing nationwide protests by the farm community.
Farmer Sunil Singh, who joined from Pathankot in the Indian state of Punjab, said "We demand that any procurement by private parties made below the minimum support price (MSP) announced by the government should be made a punishable offence under the law. With the current provisions in the bill, which allows private procurement, only companies stand to benefit".
MSP is the procurement price for agriculture products that the government announces during a harvest season. With this system the farmers are ensured a minimum threshold price for their produce. With the bills attempting to align prices of agricultural produce with market forces, farmers fear that they will be exploited by private companies in the future. Another farmer, Dhirendra from Bihar said that the government does not care about farmers, who are dying from hunger.
Congress and the entire opposition are against the bills -- Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce Bill, 2020 and the Farmers Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, passed by the Indian Parliament.
The Congress Party has even asked the chiefs of the states governed by it to bypass the laws using the provisions in Article 254(2) of the Indian Constitution. The provision allows a state government to negate central laws encroaching upon the state jurisdiction. This, however, is subject to approval from by the Indian president. Even though Congress is certain that such a move to circumvent federal law may not get the presidential nod, party sources say it is important to do so symbolically.
The bills allow farmers to sell their produce at places aside from their designated market regulated by the government. They also facilitate contract farming for farmers, allowing them to enter into supply agreements with private firms.
The opposition's key contention against the laws is that the government is attempting to replace the age-old system of price assurance through a minimum support price and is leaving farmers at the mercy of corporate players, who may have an upper hand in setting the price for agricultural produce. Meanwhile, the government and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi have time and again assured farmers that the system of MSP will remain in force.
At least 10,281 persons involved in the farm sector ended their lives in 2019, suggests the Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India report 2019 by the National Crime Records Bureau.