On February 5, Bob Blackman, a politician from the Conservative Party of United Kingdom, tweeted an infographic favouring contentious farm laws passed by the Indian parliament in September 2020. He shared the infographics with the caption, "There has been much social media coverage around the #FarmersProtest in #India. Very useful guide to the legislation and the impact on farmers."
The tweet was done a day after international pop singer Rihanna, teen environment activist Greta Thunberg and many other international celebrities tweeted in favour of the farmers protesting in Delhi demanding the revocation of the new farm laws.
The illustrations shared by Bob Blackman has the following claim:
1. The new farm laws guarantee the statuses of Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) and Minimum Support Prices (MSP)
2. The new laws give freedom to farmers to sell their products outside APMCs and above MSP
3. Legal mechanisms will force buyers to pay farmers on time
4 Politically backed APMC middlemen earlier had control of the destiny of farmers' sales and income which will no more be possible after new farm bills.
5. New farm laws empowers farmers with legal rights to prosecute unethical agents, i.e; agents and/or buyers.
The other five claims on the second illustration are similar to the above.
The infographic is of a website Citti.net. The Logical Indian investigated each claim separately.
The new farm laws guarantee the statuses of Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) and Minimum Support Prices (MSP).
The Logical Indian found the claim to be misleading.
According to a report by India Today, after 1960, when the Green revolution happened in India to deal with the food shortages, the government looked for a plan to resolve the issue. In 1966-67, the government started giving MSP on wheat crop and expanded further to include other essential food crops. These crops were later sold at a subsidised rate under Public Distribution System (PDS). But despite the introduction of MSP during procurement of crops, it was never mentioned anywhere legally. While the government announces MSP twice every year, it isn't mandatory.
On November 29, Agriculture Minister, Narendra Singh Tomar clarified that farm bills have nothing to do with the Minimum Support Price, according to CNN News 18. He also said that MSP has never been a part of any law, neither in past farm laws nor the new one. Hence, there is no guarantee of MSP legally as claimed by Bob Blackman.
While the earlier laws mandated farmers to sell their crops at market yards APMC, the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, now allows the farmer to sell their procurements an 'outside trade area' like farm gates, factory premises, warehouses, silos, and cold storages, according to Jagran Josh. While the new law provides farmers with an option to sell their products at the place of their choice, the law never guarantees the status of APMCs.
The new laws give freedom to farmers to sell their products outside APMCs and above MSP
According to Down To Earth, the Farmers Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services intents to strengthen the farmers by creating opportunities for them to sell their produce outside the APMC and expand their access to the market. This open market can reduce the monopoly of APMC and result in improved price discovery. But in the same article, the cons of the new law is mentioned. According to the article, "Loosening the grip of APMCs, the government risks the possibility of farmers receiving prices below the minimum support price (MSP)." The article cited the example of Bihar where the mandis were repealed in 2006, after which the agriculture growth declined. The law creates a sudden vacuum in the market by reducing the role of APMC, responsible for setting up prices of the crops. The new laws do not speak about the alternate price-setting mechanism of agricultural products.
Economic Times quoted economist Jean Drèze, who said that the farm laws will not liberate farmers but leave them at the mercy of the government.
Claim 3: Legal mechanisms will force buyers to pay farmers on time
Section 13 of The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce Promotion and Facilitation Act, 2020 says, "No suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall lie against the Central Government or the State Government, or any officer of the Central Government or the State Government or any other person in respect of anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done under this Act or of any rules or orders made thereunder."
Similarly, section 25 says, "No civil court shall have jurisdiction to entertain any suit or proceedings in respect of any matter, the cognizance of which can be taken and disposed of by any authority empowered by or under this Act or the rules made thereunder."
According to People's Archive Of Rural India (PARI), the new farm laws will magnify the already most unjust imbalance of power between farmers and the giant corporations they will be dealing with. The article also says that Section 19 of this farm law is a strike at Article 32 of the Constitution of India, which guarantees a right to constitutional remedies (legal action).
Bar Council of Delhi also wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, claiming that the 'bar of civil court jurisdiction will be detrimental to the interest of legal professionals.
The farm laws do not provide a 'legal mechanism to pay farmers on time'.
Claim 4: Politically backed APMC middlemen earlier had control of the destiny of farmers' sales and income which will no more be possible after new farm bills
APMC Acts was introduced to safeguard the farmers from exploitation by creditors and other intermediaries. The same law mandated the sale or purchase of the agricultural produce to be carried out in a designated market area, and, producer-sellers or traders must pay the requisite market fee, user charges, levies and commissions for the agents.
Far before the new farm laws were introduced, farmers protested to fix the prices of the crops. According to an article published by The Hindu on July 21, 2015, the farmers in Karnataka protested demanding fix price. Belgavi district president of the Sugarcane Growers Association T.T. Murkatnal said, "The manufacturers of industrial and various other consumer products enjoyed the right to fix price for their products and sold at MRP (Maximum Retail Price). But the same right was denied to the growers of food grains, fruits, vegetables and all such commodities grown in agricultural fields and farms. The government was not even willing to at least fix scientific price for the agricultural produce considering the cost of cultivation."
Aunindyo Chakravarty, an economist, in an article for The Tribune, wrote, "Assured prices alone can ensure that farmers have a steady income. Otherwise, a sudden glut can cause farmers to go bankrupt."
Claim 5: New farm laws empowers farmers with legal rights to prosecute unethical agents, i.e; agents and/or buyers
According to Outlook, a section of Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill says, "Presently if the farmers feel the traders/corporate/agents working inside the APMC Mandis are involved in any unfair practices, they could complain to the APMC Officers located in the yard itself. However, with the new Bill, in case of any disputes, farmers would be required to go to a sub-divisional magistrate court – which is beyond the capacity of small farmers to pursue given their financial constraints." Hence, the law will leave them at the mercy of corporates than empowering them.
Hence, we can see that the Tweet made by Bob Blackman is misleading.
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