Farmers’ Protest 2020: Will Government Roll Back the Laws?

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The Government of India recently passed three farm bills to bring reforms in the agriculture sector. Since September 2020, farmers mainly from the states of Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh are protesting against these farm bills.  Farmers’ protest 2020 in the national capital of India has created quite a flutter around the nation as well as some other parts of the world.

Background of these farm bills:

In 2017, the central government had released model farming acts. But some governments did not implement several reforms mentioned in the model farming act. In order to implement these reforms, the government set up a committee of seven Chief Ministers in 2019. As a result, the central government launched three ordinances in the first week of June 2020. These ordinances deal with the reforms in agricultural produce, its sale, marketing, hoarding and contract farming.

What are the Farm Bills 2020?

In our previous article, we discussed these farm bills in detail. Farm Bills 2020 are a combination of three bills i.e.—

-Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) or FPTC Bill, 2020.

-Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020.

-Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020.

In June 2020, the Government of India implemented these farm ordinances. Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha passed the three farm bills in September 2020. The President of India also gave his assent by signing the bills in the same month, thus converting them into acts.

The Beginning of Farmers’ Protest 2020:

When the Government of India introduced the farm bills 2020 as an ordinance, the farmers started protesting against the FPTC bill. The FPTC bill allows farmers to sell their harvest outside the notified Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC). They can sell their produce without even paying any state taxes and fees.

The farmers complained that the government has removed the facility of MSP in this new bill. They were also not satisfied with the provisions mentioned in the second farm bill. The farmer unions said that these bills render the farmers incapable to negotiate the terms and price with private traders.  They accused that these bills are anti-agriculture in nature and benefit only private traders. So, to ensure their safety and rights, farmers started protesting in large numbers.

People of different age groups, be it children or older citizens, are participating in the ongoing protests. Started with the farmers from Punjab and Haryana, people from different states joined the agitation with farmers. Many celebrities from different walks of life came forward in the support of farmers. Have a look on the series of events which took place during the protest describing the farmers’ struggle to fight for their rights.

Local Protest:

Soon after when the government introduced these bills, many farmer unions started holding local protests, majorly in Punjab and Haryana. These farmer unions include several groups like Bharatiya Kisan Union, Jai Kisan Andolan, All India Kisan Sabha, Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, National Alliance for People’s Movements and so on. Many farmer unions came forward with the support of other farmers and opposition parties. They appealed to the state governments to listen to their plea against these laws and interfere in the issue.

Rail Roko’ in Farmers’ Protest 2020:

Several farmers and protesters in Punjab sought to intensify their agitation which prompted them to began the ‘Rail Roko’ (or railway blockade) movement against the farm laws. Following this, central government had to suspend rail services for two months in Punjab. Due to this ‘rail roko’ agitation, the state of Punjab faced a shortage in coal reserves. This raised the unavoidable situation of power cuts in the state.

By mid-October, the farmer unions announced their exemption from ‘rail roko’ agitation. Soon after that, the government had resumed the railway service for goods trains for a short period of time. However the government again suspended the services, saying farmers are still blocking the tracks. Farmers then changed the format of their agitation and started marching towards Delhi.

‘Delhi Chalo’ Farmers’ Protest 2020:

The farmers sought to pressurize the Central Government by marching to Delhi. After two months of protests, thousands of farmers began their march to Delhi and started the movement ‘Delhi Chalo’. Farmers from different states joined this movement against the farm laws. On their way, they faced opposition with water cannons, tear gases, and several layers of barricades by the police force. The Delhi government rejected the suggestion made by Delhi police of converting nine stadiums into temporary jails for farmers saying that the farmers are not criminals and their protests are non-violent. The Central government wants the farmers to move away from the border of Delhi to a protest site in Burari. Despite the pandemic, the farmers preferred to stay at the borders and wished to protest at Jantar Mantar.

Around 300,000 farmers marched from the states of Punjab and Haryana – on foot and in convoys of tractors. The farmers have set up camps along five major roads with a view to staying for months if their demands are not get fulfilled.

Bharat Bandh:

Farmer unions urged the farmers to come out in open to oppose the bills. So they decided to start a farmer’s curfew called ‘Bharat Bandh’ on 25 September 2020. They said to continue protests until the government guarantees MSP in the law and it ensures the safety of farmer’s produce. The most widespread protests took place in Punjab and Haryana, but in some other states like Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Odisha and Kerala also, the protests intensified.

Blocking of borders and roads:

Farmers’ protest created a serious disturbance in the whole nation. While protesting, farmers blocked several borders after reaching Delhi. Borders such as Dhansa, Jharoda Kalan, Kalindi Kunj, Tikri, Singhu etc. were blocked by the protestors. All these borders connect Delhi to the other districts or towns. The protestors on 29 November announced that they would further block the five entry points of Delhi, namely, Ghaziabad-Hapur, Rohtak, Sonipat, Jaipur and Mathura.

Steps taken by the Government of India:

The Central Government of India has agreed to discuss the future of the new farm bills. After 3 meetings with farmers, the Government of India could not find a solution to end the protest. On 3rd December 2020, the Central ministers decided to again have a talk with the farmers and listen to their demands. But this seven-hour meeting failed to end the deadlock. Union Agriculture Minister, Narendra Tomar, who led the negotiations, said the next meeting will be held on Saturday i.e. 5th December 2020.

Demands of farmers:

The 4th round-talk at Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi ended with seven hours of discussion where the farmer’s representatives presented their demands. They asked that the Centre should convene a special Parliament session to repeal the farm laws. They also demanded the government to make MSP and state procurement of crops a legal right. The spokespersons of the farmer unions further added that the center should not interfere in state’s affairs/subjects. The Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar has assured that MSP will not be removed from legal provisions. He conveyed to the farmers that no changes will be made in it by the government.

Reaction to the Farmers’ protest against the Farm Bills 2020:

Many people are supporting farmers in their protests. Many political personalities had also taken serious steps opposing the new farm bills. Firstly, Union Cabinet Minister, Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigned from her post on 17 September 2020 to oppose the latest ordinances. She is a member of the Shiromani Akali Dal Party—an ally of BJP (the ruling government). Then former Chief Minister of Punjab and president of Shiromani Akali Dal, Prakash Singh Badal returned his Padma Vibhushan to the President on 3 December 2020. He took this huge step to support the farmer’s protest saying that if the government is not ready to listen to the poor farmers there is no use to keep the awards. Some other Padma Awardees also returned their honours.

Now, this farmers’ protest has become headlines across the world. Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, expressed his concerns about these protests. He assures that Canada will always defend the rights of protestors. Few British MPs and sports persons have also tweeted in support of farmers. In a bid to show solidarity with the farmers, protests have also erupted across places in New York and Australia.

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