In Hyderabad as well, farmers’ unions protested saying the amendments would only boost corporate agriculture at the expense of farmers.

Farmer union leaders in Hyderabad protestBy arrangement
news Farmers’ issues Monday, September 14, 2020 - 15:52

Nearly 200 farmers’ groups which are part of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), are protesting across the country on Monday against three ordinances listed to be tabled as Bills on the first day of Parliament session. Interestingly, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh is also unhappy with the ordinances. The Left-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha has also slammed the ordinances.

In Hyderabad as well, Rythu Swarajya Vedika, All India Kisan Mazdoor Sabha, Telangana Rythu Sangham, Telangana Rashtra Rythu Sangham protested at RTC crossroads against the three ordinances. The organizations believe the new amendments will boost corporate agriculture at the expense of farmers.

What are the three bills?

1) Essential Commodities Act  (Amendment) Bill, 2020

2) The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020

3) Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020

Two out of the three Bills have been placed in the list of business for Lok Sabha on Monday, on the very first day of the session. The Essential Commodities Bill is slated for debate and passing on September 15.

Why are farmers’ unions up in arms?

Explaining why the farmers are up in arms against the Bills, Kiran Kumar Vissa of the Rythu Swarajya Vedika said, "The Essential Commodities Act (ECA) Amendment says in its preamble that one of its purposes is to increase farmers' income, but in reality, this is meant only to give a boost to big agribusiness companies such as Adani-Wilmar. In fact, we are calling it the ‘Corporate Food Hoarding Bill’.”

According to Kiran, the ECA never placed restrictions on farmers from selling or storing any quantities of food commodities. The restrictions were on the agri-business companies and traders, to prevent hoarding of foodstuffs. With this amendment, the power of government to regulate food commodity supply, storage, stock limits, etc is removed except under extraordinary circumstances.

What are extraordinary circumstances?

The new amendments categorically say that the government can invoke the Essential Commodities Act (ECA) ,1955, only if retail prices rise 50% in case of non-perishables and 100% in the case of perishable items from the average retail prices in the preceding 12 months or last five years, either case. The extraordinary circumstances include war, famine, extra-ordinary price rise, natural calamity of grave nature.

According to experts, what has not been specified is which price and where, as well as when and how such data will be maintained.

What happens if regulations are removed?

Explaining the consequence of removal of regulations, Kiran said, “Once restrictions are removed, big companies like Adani, Reliance and Walmart can build huge processing and storage lines, which will ensure their market domination. In the process, the small farmers will have no bargaining power, and in fact will ultimately get lesser prices for their crops.”

“Adani-Wilmar also imports large quantities of food such as oils and pulses from its own units and holdings in other countries. The removal of stock limits makes it much more convenient for them to dominate the market both internally and externally. In addition to their interests in Africa, in 2019-20, Adanis established their Bangladeshi subsidiary which is investing $350 million in setting up a processing industry in their special economic zone. This is a high-stake game by big agri-business companies whose result would be to push small farmers out of agriculture, following the American model", alleged Kiran.

When were these amendments announced?

On June 4, the Union Cabinet announced amendments to the Essential Commodities Act and two more ordinances. The ordinances were claimed to be far-reaching steps to unshackle the country’s farm sector. The Essential Commodities Act is around 60 years old and the amendments were touted to bring the full force of liberalization to the farm economy. These measures were first announced on May 15 by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman during the second series of briefings on the government’s Atma Nirbhar campaign.

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