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Currently farmers in India are protesting some law changes related to farming. Since Punjab is primarily agricultural, the changes are disproportionately affecting Sikhs which has lead to widespread support protests in other countries with sizable Sikh populations.

I've spent some time reading about the protests, but am having a hard time discerning what the protests are actually about. Articles written in favour of the laws say it's about removing government regulation and opening up a free market. Articles against say that it's a scheme by big corporate farms timed during the pandemic to force small farmers out of business and buy up their land.

Could anyone summarise this for those of us who can only read the foreign news articles about this?

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    @Fizz Perhaps you could write an answer which summarizes the relevant information from that BBC article? – Philipp Dec 9 '20 at 12:21
  • Frankly this q being about what the law (changes) say(s) is better suited to law.stackexchange.com The other linked q being about the political issues, i.e. how the law was interpreted by various people who supported or protested against it is more suitable here. – Fizz Dec 9 '20 at 14:56
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    It's a good question regardless of lack of clear answers. It is not uncommon for farming policy to result in market distortions. For example, Canada has special dairy regulations and long ran a federal (?) wheat board to buy wheat from farmers. The EU also has massive farmer support policies which have changed over time. Modifications to these policies have frequently resulted in pushback by the affected constituencies which makes that a political subject. Not only that, but both the Canadian PM and a leader of the NDP opposition party have expressed concern about whatever is going on. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Dec 10 '20 at 4:47
  • @Fizz Farming support/regulations are a major policy platform for many political parties in many countries. They impact consumer prices and often have outsized effects on governmental spending. Lobbies opposing/promoting reforms will exert lots of efforts to influence the political process. They are about as political as regulations get. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Dec 11 '20 at 20:15
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The protests from farmers is around the three laws enacted by the government of India recently around agricultural activities. Following are the laws,

  • Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020
  • Farmers' (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020
  • Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020

The government claims that these laws will empower the farmers of India, by enabling them to sell their produce wherever they want, sets up the framework for contract farming, etc. but associations of farmers, (mainly from the states, but not limited to, of Punjab & Haryana) says that these laws will expose small & marginal farmers of India to the exploitation of corporate & private players, hence the framework set up by the respective governments of the states will not able to shield them from exploitation.

The point-by-point concerns from the farmers around each of the above-mentioned law are as follows:

Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill

This law enables private entities of the country to set up their own agricultural markets, where farmers can sell their produce. Until now, farmer their produce in APMCs, these are markets operated by the state governments & each state has their own way of controlling these markets, some of the states do not even have a law to manage these markets. State government charge taxes, fees & cess upon seller & buyer both, the new private markets will be outside of the jurisdiction of the state govt. and they'll not be able to collect any kind of tax.

In these markets for few commodities, government fix a floor price for buying those from farmers, these floor prices are called MSP (minimum support prices)

Concerns over the bill by the farmers

  • Since private markets will be outside the purview of the state governments, private markets will provide higher prices to the farmers & hence within few years this will render impractical for stage governments to operate APMCs, & eventually, these will shutdown & once that happens, MSP will collapse, & farmers will lose all their protection.
  • Currently, farmers sell their produce to officially registered agents in APMCs, whereas in private markets anyone can buy their produce. In case of any dispute related to settlement, it is easy to nab registered agent by cancelling his/her license, but the absence of such kind of registration will make farmers vulnerable to frauds from buyers.

Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill

This bill setups the framework for the contract farming (already happening in some parts of the country), between private corporates & farmers.

Concerns over the bill by the farmers

  • Dispute resolution mechanism keeps these kinds of cases out of the purview of jurisdiction of civil or local courts. Any kind of dispute will be resolved by city-level executives called sub-divisional magistrate & district collectors. Most of the farmers in India are very small & marginal, therefore, there is a sentiment amongst the farmers that a bureaucrat appointed by the government will not do an impartial resolution of the disputes & farmers will be at loss in front of powerful corporate companies. Hence they want the right to go to court.

Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill

This bill primarily does away with the restrictions imposed on traders for storage of certain essential commodities except for extraordinary times. Actually, until now they couldn't store the commodities beyond a certain limit, the restriction was imposed decades back to check to the hoard of essential commodities.

Concerns over the bill by farmers

  • They fear that old practices of times of controlling the supplies, to keep the prices will come back & will cause distress in markets. But as compared to other concerns, the concerns over this bill very very less.

Procedural concerns of farmers for enacting these laws

Also, farmers are not happy in the manner in which these laws are passed, firstly, there were no discussions held with the relevant stakeholders and secondly, in the middle of a lockdown and pandemic, these were introduced as an ordinance (executive orders passed when parliament is not in session), then as soon as the parliament was in session they were passed without minimal discussion.

There are questions being raised by the farmer union & associations over the legality of these laws since agriculture comes under the jurisdiction of the state government and the argument kept forward by the central government is that inter-state trade & commerce is under the jurisdiction of the central government.

Concerns of farmers with few other laws

In addition to the above three laws, some farmer unions are raising voice against two other laws enacted by the government of India.

One is the electricity amendment act 2020, for which the primary concern is that it will reduce the subsidies provided by the state government to farmers on the consumption of electricity.

The other is an ordinance passed in October 2020, while the farmers were protesting against other bills, to set up The Commission for Air Quality Management in NCR and Adjoining Areas, this ordinance also states that violators of the rules made by the commission will attract a fine of Rs. 1 Crore (10 Million) and imprisonment of five years. In response to the ordinance, farmers say that government should give them an alternative solution to the stubble, rather than penalising them, according to them, administration's practises has led to the increase the in the cultivation of paddy & wheat and henceforth the problem stubble burning has increased.

My source of information in this answer primarily are:

  1. https://tradebrains.in/farm-bill-2020-explained/
  2. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bSmwLboZ6JE
  3. https://www.quora.com/I-have-just-begun-studying-the-Indian-economy-What-is-the-APMC-Act-What-are-its-pros-and-cons
  4. https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/an-expert-explains-farm-acts-and-federalism-6622769/
  5. https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/ludhiana/punjab-haryana-pollution-stubble-burning-farmers-6909686/
  6. https://www.timesnownews.com/business-economy/industry/article/electricity-amendment-bill-2020-key-amendments-objective-opposition-and-more/653565
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    Has the stubble burning drama been resolved? I don't see it mentioned here. – Onyz Dec 11 '20 at 16:31
  • You're right, forgot to mention one other bill related to electricity and one ordinance regarding the setting up of a commission to check deteriorating air quality through activities like stubble burning in NCR and adjoining areas – Anshul Sahni Dec 11 '20 at 18:08
  • How (un)popular are these reforms outside of the farmer lobby? I tend to distrust Modi on principle, but at the same time India seems to have accumulated decades of special regulations that are only beneficial to particular constituencies and harm the rest. Stubble burning for example is a huge hit on everyone else, just like Canadian consumers hardly benefit from cheese import regulations. India also has some downright bizarre rules like taxing stuff by weight rather than value. Seems like lots of scope to clean up detrimental red tape, but at the cost of overly-coddled farmers. – Italian Philosophers 4 Monica Dec 11 '20 at 20:08

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