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January 15, 2021
KhabriBaba
India

‘Does Modi understand farming?’

Reading Time: 13 minutes

‘You may have become India’s prime minister because of your oratory skills, lies and frauds, but to run the nation one needs the empathy and vision of Vajpayeeji.’

Photograph: PTI Photo

Even as the government invited agitating farmers for talks, Jagdish Singh, president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union’s Madhya Pradesh unit, doesn’t think the issue is likely to be resolved any time soon.

In this interview with Prasanna D Zore/KhabriBaba.com, Singh throws light on why one can see only farmers from Punjab and Haryana marching towards Delhi, how the new farm laws will lead to the collapse of Agricultural Produce Market Committee mandis, and how the MSP is seldom paid despite commitments from the government.

“If the cost of production of rice for farmers comes to Rs 2,000 and he gets only Rs 1,400 by selling his produce, or if he sells his urad whose cost of production comes to Rs 5,500 but is forced to sell it at Rs 3,000, why will the poor farmer not die by suicide?” he asks.

How many farmers from Madhya Pradesh are travelling to Delhi to participate in the agitation against the three farm laws?

Around 500 farmers from Gwalior, Satna and Jabalpur, those regions which are closer to Delhi, have already reached Delhi.

Delhi is quite far from Madhya Pradesh, around 1,000-1,200 km and since there being no trains or buses going towards Delhi, not many farmers from MP can join in this agitation.

However, farmers in all the 52 districts of MP have been staging peaceful protests against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s farm laws in a very peaceful manner at district headquarters.

Using tractors or trucks to transport farmers from MP to Delhi has its own difficulties and challenges.

But why is it that farmers from Punjab and Haryana are heading to Delhi in larger numbers?

That’s because these two states are not too far from Delhi. Punjab and Haryana are just 200-400 km from Delhi but we are more than 1,000 km from Delhi.

We are protesting in each of the 52 districts and petitioning the central government through district collectors.

What are the main demands of farmers in Madhya Pradesh?

The same as those of farmers from Punjab and Haryana, and Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

The farmer in MP is also directly attached to the APMC mandis. The problems faced by the farmers in Haryana and Punjab are our problems too.

How will the three farm laws affect the APMC mandis in MP?

Because of these three new farm laws, the APMC mandis in MP will not run after three or four months. The news laws are such that they will lead to collapse of APMC mandis in the next four-five months.

How will the APMC mandis collapse?

The APMC mandis charge farmers, who bring their agricultural produce here, Rs 1.70 as tax per quintal (one hundred kg) of their produce. This tax is charged to recover various costs incurred by the mandis for maintenance, wage payments of labourers, and also as tax to the state governments, etc.

The traders who purchase the farm produce bill this tax to the farmer and pays the same to the APMC mandis.

What these three farm laws have done is allowed private players like Adanis and Ambanis to open their own mandis where they don’t have to pay any tax to the government which the APMC mandis bill farmers, and hence the farmers receive less realisation for their produce.

The APMC mandis, however, have to pay Rs 1.70 tax to the government for its maintenance and upkeep. So, because of this low cost of operation, the private players will offer a better price for the farmers’ produce.

Consequently, the farmers will go to the Adanis and Ambanis to sell their produce as they will pay them a higher price initially, or so long as the APMC mandis don’t shut shop.

But why should farmers be concerned about the fate of APMC mandi sif the Ambanis and Adanis offer them a better price for their produce?
Won’t the Modi government’s new farm laws help farmers realise better returns for their produce?

You don’t get the Modi Sarkar’s systematic game plan to line the pockets of the Ambanis and Adanis.

Once the APMC mandis shut shop, the farmers will be at the command of these private players who will drive down their prices — contrary to them paying higher prices till the APMCs shut down — to maximise their own profits. That’s what the Ambanis did with the telecom sector.

The Ambanis offered free calls, almost free or cheap data to kill their competition in the telecom sector and now they have near-monopoly in the telecom sector and see how they have been jacking up their prices and making huge profits.

We have no problem with them making money, but if that’s happening at the cost of farmers, we will not tolerate it.

The farmers fear, and which is only natural, that the Modi Sarkar will not just stop at making them the slaves of price monopolies that corporates like the Ambanis and Adanis will enjoy in the food processing and retail sector once the APMCs shut down.

These farmers, in the absence of remunerative prices for their crops, will have no option but to sell their land holdings to these rich corporates to sustain their survival.

That’s the game plan of Modi Sarkar; they are selling off the farmers’ kismet (fate) to these deep-pocket corporates so that they can ultimately grab our lands.

Yeh sarkar toh kisano ka khoon choos legi (this government wants to suck farmers’ blood).

But then, can’t the traders who purchase farmers’ produce and bill them for the Rs 1.70 tax charged at these mandis pay this tax from their own pockets and offer remunerative prices to farmers?

Why should the traders pay from their pockets?

To compete with private players and also offer better prices to farmers, which is the ultimate aim of the APMC Act as well as the Modi government…

Look, these big players will pay hugely better rates now to farmers than these traders because they want to lure the farmers with higher prices.

Once they fall into this high remuneration trap, these rich corporates will suck them dry later after the farmers will have no choice but sell their produce to these private players.

If this happens, the traders too will flock to these rich corporates and start working for them.

But why should farmers not go to private players if they offer them better prices?

Because the farmers know that this will be a temporary phenomenon. Also, the Rs 1.70 tax rate per quintal goes to the state government’s treasury, which they will not get from private players and their mandis. The state government will lose revenue.

Again, why should farmers bother about the drop in revenue generated by the state government that it earns out of tax money they pay?
The farmers, if they go to the private mandis, will at least earn Rs 1.70 more than if they were to go to the APMC mandis.

That is true. Not only will the farmers earn just Rs 1.70 more than what they get at APMC mandis, these private players have deep pockets to pay them many times more and they will definitely do it till they establish their monopoly.

But as I have been maintaining, the farmers will be the biggest losers in the end and they know it quite well.

Why are the farmers pouring into the streets in winter, leaving behind their farms and families behind?

Why are you seeing such huge crowds of farmers heading towards Delhi to confront the government and demand the withdrawal of these farm laws as well as a guaranteed MSP even from private players?

Under the new farm laws, the farmer has no protection or security that the private players will pay him for his produce but under the law that governs the functioning of APMCs, the traders are not allowed to transport the farmers’ produce outside the mandis if they do not clear the farmers’ payments.

Under the new law, the farmers can’t even seek redressal of their grievances from courts.

I fail to understand why Modi made these three laws when there was no such demand from farmers. For whose benefit is this being done?

He first introduced these ordinances stealthily and later, when the country was busy fighting the pandemic, he got these bills passed in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha by browbeating the Opposition. He could have done that to the Opposition MPs, but farmers will not buckle under his stealth tactics.

We will continue to fight till these new laws are scrapped or they include a guaranteed MSP for farmers from private mandis. This is a fight to the finish.

How are the APMC mandis functioning in Madhya Pradesh and how are farmers benefitting from it?

There are around 230 APMC mandis in the state. Soon after these three ordinances became law, the prices of foodgrains grown in Madhya Pradesh have been hitting new lows.

Wheat is being sold for Rs 1,400-Rs 1,500 per quintal. It was sold for Rs 2,200 per quintal at the same time last year.

Let me give you one more example of how these farm laws have been harming foodgrain prices. They have been falling soon after these three laws were passed.

The going rate for urad (black gram, black lentils) in mandis here had hit Rs 7,000 per quintal just two months ago. The government went for bulk imports and that has driven down the price of urad to Rs 3,000 per quintal.

Now, the government announced the MSP of Rs 6,000 per quintal. But the government (of Madhya Pradesh) is not buying at all (from farmers at Rs 6,000 per quintal).

The helpless farmers have no choice but to sell it to traders for Rs 3,000 per quintal.

But if the MSP has been announced at Rs 6,000 per quintal, why is the state government not buying urad at that price? Shouldn’t the state government purchase urad at MSP?

Sarkar ke liye kanoon thode banaye jaate hai (laws are never binding on the government). The law is only on the paper.

In the APMCs, rice is being sold at Rs 1,400 while its MSP is Rs 2,000 per quintal. No law is binding on the government. The law is always on paper.

When you say that the law is never binding on any governments, so what is the guarantee that even if the Modi government makes a law that gets farmers guaranteed MSP, as is one of their demands, the farmers will be able to sell their produce at the MSP?

There is no guaranteed MSP as of now; that’s what the farmers are fighting for today. Once the government guarantees it and makes it a law, the government will have to procure grains at the guaranteed MSP.

Why should governments pay farmers a guaranteed MSP when, as in the case of urad you gave, it can import the same at a much cheaper rate and save some money for itself?
Wouldn’t consumers benefit the most if they get foodgrains at lower prices?

While consumers benefit because of depressed retail prices, the farmers reach a situation where they have to die by suicide.

If the cost of production of rice for farmers comes to Rs 2,000 and he gets only Rs 1,400 by selling his produce or if he sells his urad, whose cost of production comes out to Rs 5,500, but is forced to sell it at Rs 3,000, why will the poor farmer not die by suicide?

One has to strike a balance between the cost at which a farmer produces a certain grain and the price he gets for his produce and the rate at which consumers get the same farm produce.

The government cannot leave the farmers at the mercy of weather, poor agriculture infrastructure, and greedy private players.

The Modi government contends that it is only the middlemen, the traders at APMC mandis whose vested interests won’t be served after the passage of these laws who are protesting out there in the streets. Do you agree with what the government is saying?

Does he understand farming? Does he have any knowledge of how farming works for farmers in India?

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was far better in understanding the problems of farmers and empathising with them.

Doesn’t matter that he belonged to the BJP, but he knew what empathy towards farmer was; he had a vision, an understanding of farmers’ woes. But this man (Modi) has empathy only for the Adanis and Ambanis. He has no concern for farmers.

You may have become India’s prime minister because of your oratory skills, lies and frauds, but to run the nation one needs the empathy and vision of Vajpayeeji.

Modi is full of arrogance and authoritarian hubris.

Hundreds and thousands of farmers are protesting even in winter and you feel ashamed to talk to them even for 10 minutes?

Yeh kaisa pradhan mantri hai hamare desh ka? (what kind of PM do we have in India?)

But the prime minister and his Cabinet ministers have expressed their willingness to talk if farmers move out to Burari, on the outskirts of Delhi. Why can’t the agitating farmers heed his advice and then talk with the government?

We will sit and agitate where we want to.

Isn’t this then becoming an ego issue?

Let them think what they want. Why can’t you talk to us without imposing any conditions on us?

Unless we increase pressure on this government, they won’t listen to our pleas.

Can’t you pressurise the government by agitating at Burari?

No. Only when governments get a big jolt in Delhi do they come to their senses.

For two months, this government didn’t allow trains to run in Punjab. The farmers kept protesting for their demands in Punjab, far away from Delhi, and what they got was halting of trains to and from Punjab.

Now they have woken up when farmers have demonstrated to shut all the five entry points into Delhi and are planning to march towards Delhi. They are coming to their senses now.

Governments wake up only when Delhi faces the heat.

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