April 9, 2021

Contributed article by Renuka Kad, Vikas Adhyayan Kendra, Mumbai, India
Email address: vak.mumbai@gmail.com, rkpatil3@gmail.com

The 2020–2021 Indian farmers’ protest is an ongoing protest against three farm acts that India’s Parliament passed in September 2020.

Why are farmers protesting?

Although agriculture is a state subject, the Centre sought to rush through amendments and usher in new laws without consultation with states. But farmers are primarily concerned with the prices they get.

They hailed everything that the Government does these days as ‘historic. But will the ‘historic’ farm reforms turn into historic blunders like the earlier Demonetisation, GST, and the lockdown?

The Government’s distrust is such that farmers are unwilling to accept the Prime minister’s assurances at face value. The Prime Minister has claimed that the opposition has been misleading the nation on farm bills, that his heart bleeds for farmers, and his Government will never do away with the Minimum Support Price (MSP) regime. The fact is that the three ordinances, now approved by Parliament with little scrutiny, do not mention doing away with the MSP or procurement of food grains by the Government.

But farmers, still waiting to see their income double by 2022 as promised by the BJP and Narendra Modi in 2014, are demanding MSP to be made into a legal right. It is fine for the PM to say that farmers are now free to sell their produce anywhere and at whatever price they like to anyone. But can the Government guarantee prices will not tumble, that private corporate bodies and traders will not form a cartel and squeeze the farmers? And if the PM is so sincere about giving farmers higher prices, why not make it a law that prices for agriculture produce cannot be lower than MSP determined by the Government?

From vegetable growers to coffee planters, from apple growers to rice farmers, the experience has been that retailers, exporters, and people who have added value to the product by processing and marketing them have made windfall profits. They have left the farmers and the consumers in the lurch.

The experience of farmers since June, when the ordinances were promulgated, has been far from happy. Produce not bought by the Government have invariably been sold at prices lower than the MSP. So, what good are these laws if they are not assured of even the MSP? The following average rates prevailing on different dates during the last three months confirm the farmers’ fears.

MSP for Moong for 2020-21: Rs 7,196 per quintal. Market price in MP: Rs 4,000 to Rs 4,500 per quintal. MSP for Soyabean: Rs 3,880 per quintal Market price in Hoshangabad: Rs 3,000 MSP for Maize: Rs 1,850 per quintal Market price in Punjab: Rs 8000 MSP for cotton: Rs 5,515-5,825/quintal Market Price in Punjab: 4,600/quintal.

That farmers get low prices is known. Vegetable growers and dairy farmers, those who are not organised like the AMUL cooperative, know it too well. The cost of cauliflowers in eastern India, for example, has not changed in 40 years, though input prices have increased. The growers still sell 100 cauliflowers for prices ranging from Rs 20 to Rs 30 to the wholesaler. The retail price of each cauliflower would, however, vary between Rs 30 and Rs 50.

How will the recent regime change that? Will Ambanis and Adanis, who are expanding and extending their agri-business, give farmers a fair deal?

When corporate entities were allowed into agribusiness and retailing, they claimed that they would bring in capital and technology, set up cold storages and cold chains, improve quality, use refrigerated vans for transport, etc. A win-win situation for everyone, it was then said. Those hopes have been belied. So, what is the guarantee that this time around, corporate bodies will deliver on the promises?

The three laws introduced by the Government, on paper at least, seem well-intentioned. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020—allows farmers to bypass the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) and sell the products directly to a big company, warehouses, cold storage chains, or even set up shop to sell directly to consumers.

The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 allows for contract farming, for a farmer to get into a contract with a buyer to cultivate specific products for a particular price. This ensures that farmers know the price they will get even before cultivation starts.

The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 allows buyers to purchase and stock commodities without getting called a hoarder and being vulnerable to penal action.

The corporate bodies, unlike the Government, will be interested in maximising their profit. If this objective is achieved by hoarding, exporting or not buying the product, they will not hesitate to do so. While free-market economics, which allows market forces to fix the price and the output, might work in countries with small populations and a large export market, it could be disastrous in a poor, developing country like India. The impact the market uncertainties can have on the farmers’ choice to produce one crop and not the other can also be severe.

The difference made by private trade is sharply brought out by the following social media post by Mumbai based journalist Sujata Anandan. It is worth reproducing the post:

“For those who wonder why farmers are protesting – here’s a live example from Kerala. A friend’s uncle was ecstatic when the Modi government abolished the coconut board, akin to the APMC. The Coconut Board, a government outfit, offered Rs 10 per coconut. After abolishing the Coconut Board, the price offered by private traders was Rs 40 per coconut.”
“But the Coconut Board would bring their men to scale up trees, cut the outer green shell of coconuts & transport them to the market. Now this man has to hire people to climb the trees, and since it is risky, pay for their insurance. He has to pay more for peeling the green skin and then transport the coconuts to the market and return. After meeting all the expenses, he gained Rupees four per coconut.”

The consumer was earlier paying Rs 20 to 40 per coconut. Now prices begin at Rs 50.
Now you know why the farmers are protesting.

Today is the 134th day of the farmers protest at Delhi Border, and over 300 farmers were dead in this protest.

  1. We are Farmers, Not a Terrorist
  2. No Farmer, No Food, No Future
  3. Revoke the 3 Laws which will destroy farmers and the farming sector
  4. Resentment—Farmers disagree with new reform—Government must LISTEN
  5. PM, Please Walk to TALK

Why are villagers in Maharashtra’s Dahanu objecting to the Vadhavan port project?

The port project, estimated to cost Rs 65,544.54 crore, is part of the Centre’s Sagarmala initiative to make Indian ports major contributors to the country’s GDP.

Locals, including groups of fisherfolk, tribals, farmers, and residents of Vadhavan and nearby villages, came together under the Vadhavan Bandar Virodhi Sangharsh Samiti (VBVSS) to protest against a biodiversity survey undertaken by officials JNPT and scientists from the National Institute of Oceanography for the construction of a port at Vadhavan.

The protesters, including men, women, and children, raised slogans against the construction of the port that they believe will be detrimental to the environment and their livelihoods.

Dahanu is one of the eight talukas in Maharashtra’s newest district of Palghar, which was created in 2014. But over two decades before that, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) had, under The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, declared Dahanu an “ecologically fragile area” and imposed restrictions on setting up of industries that have a detrimental effect on the environment.

Stressing on the area’s ecological sensitivity, the locals have said that the port’s construction will hurt flora and fauna of Dahanu and disrupt allied activities like fishing and farming.

Dahanu was only one of three places in India where live conches can be found, giving the seafront of Vadhavan the name of “Shankhodar”. The rocks, moss, and corals in the sea, he said, are favourable not just for fishing but also for fish seeding.

The protesters also said that the survey team of five, including two scientists, could not have surveyed without informing the Gram Panchayat of Vadhavan that passed a resolution against the proposed port in 2014.

The protesters and environmentalists say that the survey should have been carried out with permission from the Dahanu Taluka Environment Protection Authority, or DTEPA, formed in 1996 following the Supreme Court’s orders. The MoEF had last year urged the court to dissolve the authority, and the matter remains pending.

Terming the survey carried out by the JNPT as “illegal”, the VBVSS members have said they are preparing to move court against the port trust’s actions.

How did the port get approval in an ecologically fragile area?
In February, the Union Cabinet gave in-principle approval for the construction of the port. In June, after the DTEPA objected to the project, the MoEF informed the port’s authority in the taluka.

The Shipping Ministry had, while seeking the Union Cabinet’s in-principle approval in February, stated that there was no restriction on constructing a port in Vadhavan — arguing that a port has no manufacturing or processing activity, and is, therefore, not an industry; instead, it is an infrastructure project.

In a statement, the JNPT said that as part of the MoEF order issued on June 8, 2020, it had recognised that “services rendered by a Port are not classified as ‘RED’ category and declared that port under no circumstances is an industry. Ports provide services to the Exim trade. Thereby, they do not contribute to the pollution in and around the region of Vadhavan.”

What is JNPT doing to ensure that the environment is not impacted?

JNPT chairman Sanjay Sethi said in a statement released on Friday, “JNPT is committed to the ecologically sustainable development of the greenfield Vadhavan port…, and we will try our best to develop the new port by adhering to the most stringent environmental norms and regulations as laid down by the Environment Ministry and authorities concerned.”

In an earlier statement, JNPT had said that the MoEF had approved the terms of reference (TOR) for conducting an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) study and instructed the port trust to comply with all the conditions under Standard Terms of Reference as a part of the environment clearance process.

“In compliance with the TOR, JNPT has assigned works to reputed government agencies for conducting multiple technical studies. Likewise, the Central Water Power Research Center (CPWRS) is directing the impact of flooding in the creeks and dredging… The National Institute of Oceanography, Goa, manages the effect of dredging on the marine ecology, biodiversity impact assessment. IIT Mumbai assesses the impact of development because of an increase in inhabitation and resolution method for congestion-free roads and improvement in artery road due to port… The Central Marine & Fisheries Research Institute is conducting area of fishing, loss to fisherfolks, compensation and an assessment on alternative means for fisherfolks and rehabilitation because of loss of fishing activities if any.”

In October 2019, Vadhavan and Varor in Dahanu had boycotted the legislative Assembly elections in the state to protest against the port project. The port trust has said that it is “sensitive to local aspirations and will attempt to contribute to the development of the local area and people” and “will live up to the expectations of people concerning the environment and take all precautionary and mitigative measures as per the sustainable development ordinance envisaged under the Environmental Law and contribute to the economic benefit for the state of Maharashtra”.

We demand to cancel Vadhavan port!
System Change Not Climate Change!
People, Planet Over Profit!