The dramatic repeal of three contentious agriculture reform Acts of Parliament, viz, Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; Essential Commodities Amendment Act, 2020, by way of prime minister Modi’s national television broadcast on November 19, has evoked mixed reactions within the minds of right-thinking people countrywide. On the one hand there’s no doubt that Indian agriculture which employs almost 60 percent of the country’s 1.30 billion citizens, needs urgent reform. But the brusque and hurried manner in which this vitally important legislation was first presented by way of ordinances and subsequently rushed through Parliament by the BJP/NDA government without debate, tarnished this necessary legislation ab initio.
Decades of government procurement of wheat and rice at above market price from producers in the well-irrigated farmlands of Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh in particular, has resulted in the emergence of a distinct class of wealthy farmers practising modern, chemicals-intensive farming which has produced bumper harvests mandatorily procured by the public sector Food Corporation of India. With electricity provided free-of-charge, farmers in these states have recklessly depleted groundwater reserves, unwittingly arousing the prospect of desertification. Consequently the ill-maintained warehouses of FCI, which should be storing 40 million tonnes of foodgrains, are averaging 82 million tonnes. These foodgrain mountains are rotting in FCI warehouses and feeding the growing infectious diseases-ridden rodent population of the country.
Foodgrains production and distribution aside, the condition of Indian horticulture is dire. India is the world’s second largest producer of fruits and vegetables. Yet because of distribution logistics deficiencies, insufficient warehousing and cold chain infrastructure, over 40 percent of the horticulture produce of mainly small farmers, rots before it gets to market. The value of horticultural produce wasted every year is estimated at Rs.50,000 crore. Therefore, quite clearly the country requires greater industry involvement by way of contract farming and rise of a massive food processing industry. This was essentially the purpose of the farm laws which have been repealed.
It should be noted that the great majority of the country’s farmers who have perpetually suffered adverse urban-rural terms of trade, are well aware of the need for agriculture reforms. But farm reform legislation needs to be enacted with their cooperation after detailed deliberation in Parliament and in consultation with their trusted leaders.
As Mahatma Gandhi often said noblest ends must be justified by the means.