Realpolitik comes to the fore

The Central Government came up with three farm ordinances last month, claiming that these were big-ticket reforms that could change the way our farmers practise agriculture and lift their financial status by bringing competitiveness in agri markets.

Without initially going into the merits or demerits of these ordinances and their objectives, the contrasting response in BJP-ruled and non-BJP-ruled states was along predictable lines. Amid this realpolitik being played out across the country, the Congress government in Punjab is supporting the Left-oriented farmer unions in opposing the ordinances, while BJP ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is half-heartedly backing the same.

The state government had itself enacted amendments to the Agricultural Produce Markets Act in 2017, which allows the setting up of private market yards and also has the provision for contract farming. Punjab stands to lose a substantial part of its earnings from the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMC) if the ordinances are implemented as these call for the deregulation of private market yards or exemption from paying taxes. The state expects to earn Rs 1,950 crore this year through APMCs.

Punjab Congress president Sunil Jakhar says that even as they feel that these ordinances are anti-farmer, the government is looking into the legality of their implementation as it threatens the federal structure of the country, with agriculture being a state subject. On the other hand, senior vice-president of the SAD, Dr Daljit Singh Cheema, says that a hue and cry is being raised by politicians only for the sake of opposing the Centre. “When the setting up of private market yards had already been approved by the state government in 2017, why object to these reforms now?” he asks.

Even as political parties continue to confront each other on this issue, farmer unions (14 of them), under the aegis of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Committee, have threatened a statewide agitation on July 27. Jagmohan Singh, general secretary of the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda), says that ever since the BJP came to power at the Centre, it has done little for the farmers. “These ordinances are in line with the party’s policy of withdrawing government support to buying agricultural produce, and ushering in corporatisation of agriculture. We will oppose the ordinances tooth and nail,” he asserts.

Despite public assurances by Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Narendra Singh Tomar that none of these ordinances are in any way a step towards withdrawing from the purchase of foodgrains at an assured price (MSP), farmers are not convinced. Sukhdev Singh Kokrikalan, general secretary of BKU (Ekta Ugrahan), says leaving the field open for private traders has led to the exploitation of farmers, even if there is a minimum support price. “The government announced MSP of Rs 1,740 per quintal for maize last year. In the absence of government purchase, farmers in Punjab were forced to sell it to private players at Rs 600-800 per quintal,” he says.

Eminent agro economist Sardara Singh Johl has hailed these ordinances as farmer-friendly and futuristic: “The main contention among a section of the farmers, which sadly had been created and fuelled by our politicians for petty political gains, is that the MSP regime will end. There is no word about the regime’s end in any ordinance, nor can any government ever afford to do away with the MSP of grains and jeopardise the country’s food security.”

Balwinder Singh Sidhu, member secretary, Punjab State Farmers and Farm Workers’ Commission, says that in the long run these ordinances will tilt the scales in favour of the private sector.