Acts of Omission: Farmers from Punjab and Haryana fear the agri laws hurt them more than others

As compared to the east zone in India where about 40% of farmers did not support the three new agri laws, in the northwest region of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, as much as 77% of the respondent farmers opposed the laws, finds the recent Gaon Connection Survey.

Animesh Mishra
| Updated: October 20th, 2020

Highest percentage of farmers in northwest region oppose the three new farm laws: Gaon Connection Survey

Eighty-year-old Santram Singh from Behru village in Patiala, Punjab, is angry. He is a member of the All Indian Farmers Association and feels cheated by the Central government because of the enactment of the three new agri laws in the country. “Each and every person from our village opposes the three acts. We want the government either to withdraw those acts or make provisions to protect the minimum support price and the mandis in them. Till that is done, we will not stop protesting,” Singh told Gaon Connection

Like Singh there are lakhs of farmers across Punjab and Haryana who are upset with the recently passed agri acts and are protesting for the last several weeks against these. To capture the perception of farmers towards the new agri laws, Gaon Connection recently conducted a rapid survey in 53 districts across 16 states in the five agro-climatic zones of the country. The findings of this survey have been released as The Rural Report 2: The Indian Farmer’s Perception of the New Agri Laws’ .

Farmers from Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh, are clearly the more worried lot, as per the findings in the survey. 

Overall two-third of farmer respondents were aware of the recent protests against the three agricultural laws. Of these, the awareness about the protests was highest among the farmers in the northwest region (91 per cent), which includes the states of Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. Least awareness was reported in the east region (West Bengal, Odisha, Chhattisgarh) where less than half (46 per cent) were aware about the farmers’ protest.

Further, 77.2 per cent respondent farmers from the northwest zone, said they did not support these new laws (see table below). This was much higher than other four zones in the country. For instance, in the south zone, 51.6 per cent said they did not support the agri laws, in the west region it was 47.9 per cent while in the north and east 53 per cent and 39.3 per cent respectively did not support the acts. 

Similarly, on being asked if the three new farm laws would bring positive change in farmers’ condition, the largest percentage (68 per cent) from the northwest region said they did not think so. In fact the farmers in Punjab and Haryana are still protesting against these laws. And have extended the rail roko abhiyan till October 21 which started on September 24. 

Meanwhile, in a special session of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha, three special bills have been introduced today on October 20, to counter the Union government’s three farm laws. 

“Punjab is an agrarian state. There is no other source of development, We don’t have major mining areas like Odisha and Jharkhand do, neither do we attract tourism like Uttrakhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Kerala do. In Punjab we are completely dependent on farming,” said Singh. 

The rapid survey by Gaon Connection on ‘The Indian Farmer’s Perception of the New Agri Laws’ was conducted between October 3 and October 9, and covered 5,022 farmer respondents in 53 districts across 16 states in the country. These included Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Uttarakhand in the north; Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh in the north west; Assam,West Bengal, Odisha, and Chattisgarh in the east-north east region; Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, in the west; and Kerala, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh in the south.

A matter of price

In the last two years, nearly 45 per cent of all rice and wheat procured by government agencies came from Punjab and Haryana. Significantly, in 2018-19, nearly 80 per cent and 73 per cent of wheat were procured at the minimum support price (MSP) through regulated mandis  in these two states. The MSP of wheat nearly doubled in the last 10 years

The Gaon Connection survey revealed how a large chunk of farmers in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh are dependent on the MSP and Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) for the sale of their crops. For instance, it found that 75 per cent of the respondents in the northwest zone sold their produce at MSP. Compare this with the states in the north region (Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Uttarakhand) where only 26 per cent farmers sell their produce at MSP. 

In the west zone of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, 71 per cent sell at MSP, followed by northeast and east region of West Bengal, Assam, Odisha and Chhattisgarh where it was  66 per cent. The highest percentage of farmers selling their crops at MSP is in the south zone (78 per cent) of Telangana, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, found the recent rapid survey. 

Most of the surveyed farmers in Punjab and Haryana, the highest producers of wheat in the country, are worried, as all these years they have been selling their produce at  state mandis at the minimum support price. But there is nothing in writing in the new acts that says the MSP will continue. And despite assurances by the government, that the mandis and the MSP will continue as before, farmers are not convinced. They fear they will then have to sell their produce to the private companies at the price the latter want, which most probably, would be less than the MSP. 

This fear was revealed in the Gaon Connection survey as 39 per cent of the respondent farmers believed the new laws would end the MSP system in the near future. Again, this fear was highest in the northwest zone farmers where 68 per cent farmers feared that MSP would be done away with (see table below). 

To counter this, 59 per cent of the total 5,022 surveyed farmers wanted a law that made MSP compulsory. This demand was again highest in the northwest region’s farmers at 81.3 per cent, followed by the west zone at 80.2 per cent. 

A safe place to sell

As per the Gaon Connection survey, 78 per cent of the surveyed farmers in Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh preferred selling their produce at the sarkari mandis, or AMPCs. This was followed by west zone farmers at 41.8 per cent and east region farmers at 38 per cent. 

“Majority of us in Punjab and Haryana are protesting because we see these acts as a threat to wheat and rice procurement. We are a lot more dependent on mandis than other states,” Mohit Jhanjhariya, a farmer from Jatheri Village in Sonipat district explained to Gaon Connection as to why the farmers in Punjab and Haryana were feeling the heat more, than the rest of the country. 

Mandis are the safest option to sell our crops, at least we get the assurance that if no one will purchase our produce in the market we can sell it directly to the sarkari mandi,” Rahul Kadyan, a marginal farmer from Sewah village, Panipat, Haryana, told Gaon Connection

While the government reiterates its promise of not doing away with either the mandi system or the minimum support price, there is nothing in the Act to back that up, pointed out Kadyan who grows sugarcane, rice and wheat on his five-acre land and usually sells all his produce  at the Panipat anaj mandi which is about five kilometres from his village. 

This fear of farmers that mandis will shut down and they would be forced to sell their crop at a low price in the open market is reflected in the Gaon Connection survey. For instance, overall 38.6 respondent farmers said they feared the new laws would lead to shutting down of mandis in the country. However, this percentage was much higher at 71.5 per cent among the northwest region’s farmers. In the other four zones of north, east-northeast, west, and south, this fear of mandis shutting down was only 30.2 per cent, 38.2 per cent, 37 per cent, and 26 per cent, respectively (see table below). 

Mandis will soon vanish as states will not receive the APMC tax needed to run the mandis, so farmers would be left with no choice except to sell their crop produce to private companies,” Ramandeep Singh Mann, a farmer and an agriculture activist, based in Dhilvan village, Bhatinda, Punjab and who works closely with farmers in Punjab and Haryana, told Gaon Connection.

It was during the last monsoon session of Parliament that three new agri bills were passed. Once President Ram Nath Kovind signed them on September 27, they became the law of the land. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, seeks to give freedom to farmers to sell their produce outside of the notified APMC market yards.

The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, gives farmers the right to enter into a contract with agribusiness firms, processors, wholesalers, exporters or large retailers for the sale of future farming produce at a pre-agreed price.

The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, is meant to remove commodities such as cereals, pulses, oilseeds, onion and potato from the list of essential commodities and do away with the imposition of stock holding limits.