From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Farm laws, Essential commodities
Mains level : Farmers protests and related issues
The Prime Minister has announced the withdrawal of the contentious farm laws.
Daniel Q. Gillion, author of The Political Power of Protest, and a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, says to be successful, a protest must be impossible to ignore.
What were the farm laws that have been repealed?
- Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020: It was aimed at allowing trade in agricultural produce outside the existing APMC mandis
- Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020: It seeks to provide a framework for contract farming;
- Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020: It was aimed at removing commodities such as cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potato from the list of essential commodities.
Why were these reforms sought?
- APMC reforms: There has been a long-pending demand for reforms in agricultural marketing, a subject that comes under the purview of state governments.
- Long pending stagnation: It was in this backdrop that the present government went for reforms in the sector by passing these laws.
In what circumstances were the laws passed?
- Ordinance route: The government initially cleared them as ordinances in June 2020, there were token protests with the country’s attention gripped by the first wave of Covid-19.
- Without consultation and haste: In Parliament, there was no thorough scrutiny of the Bills by a parliamentary panel. The government dismissed these demands and pushed the legislation through.
- Opposition disregard: The Opposition benches were suspended for a week for their “disorderly conduct” while protesting against the rushed passage of the laws.
Beginning of the protests
The protests gained momentum when the Centre pushed the Bills in Parliament in the Monsoon Session.
- Fear over private mandis: Farmers feared that the existing APMC mandis where they sell their products would be shut down once private players started trading in agri-produce outside the mandi premises.
- Non-guarantee over MSP: Once the APMC mandi system became redundant, procurement based on minimum support prices (MSP) too would come to an end.
After sporadic protests against the farm laws, including a nationwide road blockade, the farmers’ unions in Punjab and Haryana gave a call for a ‘Delhi Chalo’ movement.
How protests could sustain for so long?
- Unity: The leaders of farmers’ unions were very strategic in their approach to the protest and decided to work together very early in the agitation.
- Finances: The protest sites at the Delhi border needed a steady injection of resources to keep going. Aware of this need, the unions had begun making monthly collections.
- People: The unions behind the farm stir are well-organized machinery with committees at the level of villages, blocks, and districts.
- Communication: Social media has been central to the scale of this agitation.
- Engagement: The unions kept the stakeholders engaged by ensuring that there was never a dull moment in this agitation.
In practical terms, what was the status of the three laws until the repeal?
- The farm laws were in force for only 221 days — June 5, 2020, when the ordinances were promulgated to January 12, 2021, when the Supreme Court stayed their implementation.
- The Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the three laws on January 12 this year.
- Since the stay, the laws have been suspended.
- The government has used old provisions of the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 to impose stock limits, having amended the Act through one of the three farm laws.
Reasons for the repeal
There are contrasting suggestions about the timing of the decision to announce the repeal.
- Forthcoming elections: There are crucial Assembly elections early next year in five states, including Uttar Pradesh and Punjab.
- Public appeasement: The PM sought to announce this on Guru Nanak Jayanti probably in a move to appease a community, to which a significant segment of protesting farmers from Punjab belongs.
- Rising anxiety among Public: There was a risk that anxiety among the protesters could lead to tensions as there had been many deaths since the protests began.
- Fury over year-long protests: The protest had created a ruckus on the streets of capital due to continuous blockades even after the intervention of Supreme Court.
- Rising political differences: Given that it took the government a year to realise the socio-political costs, the repeal also signals a weakened political feedback mechanism within the party.
Significance of the repeal
- Restores faith in the govt: In the immediate term, the repeal exposes the government to charges of being on the wrong path and against popular sentiments, notwithstanding its claims to the contrary.
- Dedication over farmers’ cause: The govt moves were increasingly perceived as being not in tune with the needs of rural farming communities.
- Political stewardship: The PM was clearly balancing his political posture that has thrived on the image of strong and decisive leadership.
Implications of the repeal
- CAA standpoint: Although the anti-CAA protests were called off, almost two years on, the Home Ministry has not yet framed the rules for implementation of the CAA.
- Statehood for J&K: There is no such unanimity over Article 370. Most of these parties have largely been united for the restoration of statehood to J&K, and early elections.
An analysis of the enactment-repeal conundrum
(1) Reforms are must
- There may be some deficiencies in the exact design and mechanism of the reforms proposed in the three farm laws.
- However, most advocates of agricultural reform would agree that they were in the right direction.
(2) Reforms don’t occur overnight
- These laws could be a great example for passionate reforms. However, Legislative tapasya (penance) is all about listening to outer world (i.e the farmers), not inner self.
- It requires listening to those for whose benefit laws and policies are crafted. It can’t be a meditation in isolation and implementation as a divine ordeal.
(3) Answerability and consultation matters
- That the government chose to push these reforms through its own set of consultations left many stakeholders feeling left out, and created a backlash.
- The repeal underlines that any future attempts to reform the rural agricultural economy would require a much wider consultation.
(4) Success lies in the acceptance of reforms
- The better design of reforms ensures wider acceptance.
- The repeal would leave the government hesitant about pursuing these reforms in stealth mode again.