A Jalianwala Bagh is in the offing: Justice Katju

Justice Markandey Katju
Justice Markandey Katju

By Justice Markandey Katju

It is evident that there is a deadlock between the agitating Indian farmers and the Central Government in India, neither side willing to give way.

One would have thought that the BJP Govt must have realised that it may lose the farmers votes in coming elections in several states ( farmers constitute 60-65% of India’s population of 135 crores or 1.35 billion ), and would withdraw the 3 laws to which the farmers have objection. Yet it seems adamant not to do so. Why?

To my mind this is because the Indian Government seems to have come under the control and grip of the big corporates, national and international, and is doing their bidding.

Why are the corporates so keen to enter the agricultural sector in India ?

To my mind this is because there is an economic recession in the world, and there are very few avenues left for profitable investment. It is in the nature of capital that it seeks avenues for profitable investment. Most avenues presently seem closed, but the massive agricultural sector in India has as yet been unexplored by big business.

Now the corporates seem to have come to the realisation that this is a field which may yield large returns, and so they have decided to enter it in a big way.

The Indian Govt, which is now in the firm grip of the corporates, claims it has got the 3 laws enacted by Parliament to benefit the farmers. But what is the reality ?

The first law, The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce ( Promotion and Facilitation ) Act, 2020 purportedly

(1) expands the scope of trade areas of farmers’ produce from select areas to any place of production, collection, aggregation

(2) allows electronic trading and e-commerce of scheduled farmers’ produce.

(3) prohibits state governments from levying any market fee, cess, or levy on farmers, traders, and electronic trading platforms for the trade of farmers’ produce conducted in an ‘outside trade area

This may sound very rosy and beneficial to farmers, but what is overlooked is that it does not provide a statutory Minimum Support Price ( MSP ) to farmers for their produce ( which was recommended as 50% above the cost of production by the Swaminathan Committee Report ). Without such MSP the law gives no benefit to the farmers, rather it places them at the mercy of the corporates since farmers are on an unequal bargaining position vis-vis the corporates.

Between 300,000 to 400,000 Indian farmers have committed suicide over the last 25 years or so, since they did not get adequate remuneration for their produce, and so they fell into a debt trap as they could not repay the loans they had taken from money lenders ( at heavy interest ) for incurring their inputs (fertiliser, pesticide, seeds, electricity for irrigation, etc).

As regards the second law, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services) Act, 2020, this provides for contract farming. This too in reality is against the interest of farmers. In contract farming prices for the farm products are fixed by agreement between the farmer and the businessman before the farming operations begin. So if what is agreed upon is, say Rs 100, and later the market price rises to, say Rs 150, the farmer will still get only Rs 100. But if the market price crashes to below Rs 100 to say Rs 50, the businessman can usually refuse to pay Rs 100 and wriggle out of the contract (which his lawyers have drafted) by some term in it, or by saying that the product is not of the requisite quality. So the businessman wins both ways, and the farmer, being in an unequal bargaining position has to settle for whatever little he is offered.

The Indian farmers have seen through the charade of these laws ( made without consulting their leaders ), and are hence on the agitational path.

So where will this deadlock end ?

Since both sides are determined to stick to their stands, much as I dislike the terrifying prospect,  I fear it will end only in large scale violence, which now seems inevitable, like Bloody Sunday in St Petersburg in January 1905, in Vendemiarie in Paris in October 1795, or in Jallianwala Bagh in Amritsar in 1919.

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