Gaurilankeshnews interviewed Kannaiyan Subramaniam (in the above video) a farmers leader from Tamil Nadu, about the controversial agro-marketing bills and farmers bill. Subramaniam has been working in the agriculture sector for many years and is the General Secretary of the South Indian Coordination Committee of the Farmers Movements. He represented farmers from Tamil Nadu in Aikya Horata, a coalition of farmers, workers and Dalits in Karnataka.
Recently, several farmers organisations around the country protested against three agro-marketing bills introduced by central government. The central government, which did not respond to any of the protests or allow any debate in the parliament, passed the bills in both the houses by obtaining the majority consent. But the protests are still ongoing.
In Karnataka, many farmers and other organisations got together and staged protests for more than a week. State legislature has passed several laws which are complimentary to the central laws. Currently these laws have been stalled in legislative council.
Kannaiyan Subramaniam discussed the dangers these laws pose, and the resistance farmers are putting up against them:
1. Tell us about the three laws that central government has passed – farm services and the essential commodities (Amendment) Act, Farmers produce trade and commerce (Promotion and facilitation) Act and Farmers (Empowerment and protection) Agreement of price Assurance – and APMC amendment act and land reform act of state, and why you protest against these laws.
It is not enough to see the laws that have been brought through ordinances by the central government because the centre cannot amend the laws which are in state list. Hence, central government had long back sent a circular to states asking them to amend the laws that are complimentary to these laws. And as if that was not enough, central government brought in ordinance, got it approved in Lok Sabha and it was passed in Rajya Sabha also.
The objective behind is nothing other than making it easy for transnational corporate investment. The amendments are going to help just them.
As there was the APMC law, the corporate could purchase crops in large quantities and could not store in large quantities. Hence they put pressure on government for a law that would make farmers sell their produce outside the APMC. When it comes to land acquisition act, it is a hindrance for foreigners to buy land here. Hence, they are putting pressure amend it. Earlier laws prevented non-farmers from buying agricultural land and that was the reason corporates put pressure. And thus the laws were amended through ordinances. With this, thousands of cases which were unresolved in courts related to violation of land reforms acts now stand acquitted.
So, shouldn’t the corporates never enter? They are definitely welcome. But they shouldn’t become everything. If it gets corporatised, they will all make a syndicate among themselves and they will again get a monopoly market. Whenever the corporates enter, they enter with an agreement. Once the farmer puts her/his signature on it, he will become his slave of the big corporate for her or his entire life. The farmers will have lesser choices. Hence they will be facing serious problems. Farmers wouldn’t know the hidden agendas behind these laws. But the farmers leaders are aware of it hence the farmers organisations are opposing it.
2. The demands put by Aikya Horata did reach the people to some extent, so why did neither the central government, which introduced these bills, nor the state government, which introduced complimentary bills, feel any heat due to the protests?
The central government is of totalitarian nature. Initially, they had won in two constituencies. Then, they were part of coalition government. But in 2014, they formed their government and one can see the change. In 2019 as they came in power with full majority, they think things should run as they say. So, even if people oppose something, they have resolved to go ahead as they have majority in parliament.
3. Agricultural activists are saying, APMC is also not working in the interests of farmers. but the free market that the central government is bringing is even more dangerous. Why would the farmers have any interest in retaining APMCs? Is this the reason for this movement not becoming as big?
APMC too has several problems. We cannot deny that.
But the problem is the way this law was brought in without any discussion. They claim this law was brought in for reforms in market and for the benefit of farmers. I won’t go into details on this law now, will just speak on fundamental principle behind it.
The primary objective of this (APMC) law is farmers should be involved in pricing by transforming from monopoly market to universal market. The farmers form a syndicate among themselves and set the minimum support price. And they make it a rule not to lower the prices for any reason. But because of the brokers, the problem has remained. And to resolve the problem, it would have been enough if the APMC law was strengthened and made farmer friendly. But what these people have done is uproot the very law. For this their defence is, ‘one nation, one market’. This is flawed and fraud and will not work in India because they do not know that there are ‘many Indias in one India’.
According to central government guidelines, this APMC law was enacted in June in Tamil Nadu. But there hasn’t been a strong resistance to it. The first reason being, the APMC turnover in our state (TN) is much less compared to other states.
Secondly, everyone believes that if there’s problem because of it, and pressure is brought in Tamil Nadu government, the ruling regional party will soon ban the amendment to this law. Hence there has not been much much resistance to APMC law in our state.
When we come to pan India scene, the farmers have not been organised nationwide. The existing organisations have fragmented. Hence we have not yet seen a big level resistance against this phenomenon.
People can join the protests and movements only if there are organisations. But as the organisations have fragmented only some groups have been protesting.
4. Support price, scientific price etc should have gained strength after Swaminathan report recommendations, but that didn’t happen. Why?
Yes, according to recommendations of this committee, there’s a support price and that should have gained more strength. But this support price, scientific price and all such things are on just on paper. If you write sugar on a paper and lick it, is it going to be sweet? Such is the situation of support price today.
5. How did the COVID-19 crisis impact agriculture?
There has definitely been a big blow. Due to the pandemic, labourers were not available. That has become a big problem during harvest season. There were no markets for farmers, and even if there were, they are not getting a fair price. The demand too had fallen. It is recovering now slowly.
6. All the farmers organisations which were fighting separately gave a united call for bandh. Is this unity going to continue?
Looking at the current situation, i think this should continue. If these organisations continue being voice of each other, its definitely going to give results.
7. Due to good monsoons and better sowing we can expect a bumper crop. Due to this prices might crash. What is your foresight in this regard?
If there’s more supply than the demand, then prices will come down for sure. This will be decided by the market, so we cannot determine the future.
The interview was translated from Kannada to english by Rajshekhar Akki