Sikkim farmers echo sentiment of those put out to pasture at Delhi

Sikkim farmers echo sentiment of those put out to pasture at Delhi

India has seen protests erupt countrywide ever since the Union government amended three farm laws in September. The government's reluctance to deliberate on the issues with those concerned, have spurred the actions of the farmer unions.

Earlier, the National Capital Region saw blockades in the bordering regions of Gurgaon, Haryana and Kapashera which has since been opened. The route connecting Delhi and Noida remains closed. The police informed that the NH44 was closed on both sides and advised people to avoid the Noida Link Road due to a protest in Gautam Budh Dwar. It has been suggested that the people use the DND route while travelling to Delhi.

"Jhatikara Border is open only for two-wheeler traffic. Available open borders to Haryana are the following borders: Dhansa, Daurala, Kapashera, Rajokri NH 8, Bijwasan/Bajghera, Palam Vihar and Dundahera Borders," the police said.

The protesting farmers have been adamant on their demand for the complete withdrawal of the amended laws. They called for a nationwide shutdown on 8th December followed by a meeting on 9th of the same month where a discussion will take place regarding the deliberation of the three farm laws. On Tuesday, party leaders who supported the demands of the farmers and their unions once more reiterated their demand of wanting a complete rollback of the laws. Agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar says that getting rid of MSP was never the aim of any of the new laws. 

The Three Farm Laws

1. The Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance And Farm Services Bill 2020

According to this bill, a legal agreement is signed between a farmer and a business owner to ensure that the farmer is not cheated on. It provides a dispute settlement between the two parties by an established authority. It ensures that the agreed sum of the commodity is paid by the buyer to the farmer in case the business owners legally dominate the farmers and put liability clauses on them. 

2. The Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Bill, 2020

This bill ensures that farmers sell their goods and commodities outside mandis, APMC yards and warehouses. Earlier, they were only allowed to sell their goods and commodities in mandis, APMC yards and warehouses but this bill gives them the liberty to sell their goods and commodities anywhere within the state or outside the state.

India’s subjects are divided into three lists, union, state and concurrent with agriculture coming under the State list. This bill does not allow the state government to impose taxes on farmers. Goods and commodities had to go through APMC yards before they reached the consumers but this bill emancipates the farmers from such restrictions and allows a barrier-free trade. The government wants out of the agriculture business and if the farmers become independent, the government won’t intervene in their business. The profit and loss of the farmers will solely depend on the demands of the market. 

3. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020

This is not a new bill. The government has recently made an amendment in the existing bill. It is a law that controls the supply, production and distribution of certain commodities. If a farmer stores commodities illegally to create artificial demands for the sake of increasing their profits, it is viewed as black marketing of the commodities. Such mode of trade only affects the consumers. What this bill allows is that the central government can include or take off any product or commodities (petroleum products, food and medicines) off the list. 

If the demand increases, so does the price. Hence, farmers create artificial demands.

In March 2020 the government brought hand sanitizers and masks under the act so that the people received genuine products at right prices.

On 1 July, the government removed the products from the Essential Commodities List. 

This bill also states that the government will only regulate supply and prices in cases of war, famine, high price or natural calamities. Cereal, pulses, potato, edible seeds and oils are few of the commodities. The government will only include it again in the list if there is an increase in the retail price for non-perishable items.

Sikkim's farming community opines on this issue

Sikkim’s Farmer Dhanpati Sapkota who produces 20,000-30,000 cauliflowers in one harvest says, “I don’t really support the bill passed by the government. The only ones that will benefit from the laws are the business owners. I cannot see how the farmers really benefit from the bill. Also, the pandemic resulted in a lot of produce to deteriorate (for some farmers) as transportation was not available during the time to transport and sell the produce in mandis”. 

He further added that the seeds provided by the government are not 100% organic. “One packet of seeds (cauliflower) gives the farmers’ only around 2000 pieces of produce through which he doesn’t really benefit much (taking into consideration the labour and transportation cost). Students and upcoming youths should be educated on growing their own seeds within the state”.

“If the government really wants to help the farmers and bring about a change then they should really consider digging deep into the root of the problems that are faced by the farmers. The youth should also be made aware of the problems that are prevailing in the country due to the bills passed”, asserts Sapkota. 

While the bills passed may have benefits in agriculture the agriculturists are the ones that will perish and suffer. 

Karma Dechen, another farmer from Sikkim opines. “Manpower has been really hard to find due to the virus COVID-19. Some of the farmers’ fell ill and some were hesitant to work on the fields due to their fear of catching the virus. They had to wear masks and gloves in the field which was a new thing for the farmers'. The production rate had gone down drastically due to the pandemic.” 

He also stated that it was difficult for Sikkimese farmers to place their issues in front of the District Commissioner. “The Commissioner is busy most of the time and almost a year passes by the time the issue is brought into the eye of the commissioner,” says Karma.

Mani Gurung thinks that the government has to carefully lay down a plan where both the farmers and the government can settle the ongoing dispute and put a stop to the ongoing dispute. “The government needs to come with a safe solution which both the contingent can agree to and put the existent controversy to a halt.”

The Central Government has been persisting that the farm laws that have been passed benefit the farming community whereas the latter says otherwise.

On Tuesday, the Union Home Minister Amit Shah tried to find a way out of the impasse regarding the three farm laws. A meeting was scheduled to be held at Shah’s residence with 13 farmer union leaders but was delayed due to the farmers getting stuck in traffic due to police barricades. Later, they were informed that the venue had changed to the Council of Agricultural Research campus in Pusa, Delhi. 

“Wednesday’s sixth round of talks with farmer unions’ leaders has been cancelled”, says a spokesperson of the Union Agriculture Ministry.

By Druhin Subba

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