New Delhi: Two hundred fifty million farmers have abandoned their farms to take part in the largest and longest farmer-led protest in India. The protest has been going on for nearly four months, in an attempt for the Modi government to repeal the three new reforms.
“There’s three farm bills which have been introduced by the Indian government. One being the APMC, they wanna eliminate the agricultural produce market committee. The second is the essential commodities amendment bill, And then the third is the empowerment and protection agreement,” says a Prince George businessman, TJ Grewal.
Grewal says, all three bills collectively envisualize trade area transactions, contract farming, and stocking in a way that makes them non-regulatory. The bills passed had a complete absence of any kind of regulations and or regulatory oversight.
To date, countless negotiations between the farmers and the government have taken place, but they are coming to a dead end. This comes as the Modi government is agreeing to adjust the reforms. But the farmers are not accepting anything less than a full reform. The government is saying the new laws will modernize the agricultural industry in India, but the farmers are saying it will destroy their livelihoods.
“There’s a fear among farmers that big businesses will indirectly have control over farm lands by receiving the farmers services that the government is talking about,” says Grewal.
College of New Caledonia political science instructor added that the Modi government has a tie to big businesses. “The Modi government does have a reputation of being center right, and more on the side of big business, there are large corporations in India. That’s where Modi has gotten support financially for his campaigns to get re-elected.”
Beach says that is the reason why farmers believe taking away the government’s guarantees, and opening it up to big businesses is another move of Modi, to help out the individuals that supported him. Despite lives being lost and wrongful treatment being done by the Indian government. Beach added the protest is not a humanitarian crisis.
“So far, some protestors have been beaten and at least one has been killed so far, but we’re talking about thousands of people protesting, so it really hasn’t gotten to the level, or at least the rest of the world hasn’t seen it yet, to where it becomes a major humanitarian crisis,” says Beach.
Beach says it does have the potential to soon become a humanitarian crisis. “So you’ve got people from the country, older farmers, thousands of people crammed into camps, are gonna be facing these rising temperatures, possibly a covid spike. It could be the perfect storm of conditions that these farmers are gonna be facing, and that could lead for a window of opportunity for the Modi government to impose a new lockdown and restrict the movement of the farmers, says Beach”
The farmers protest is nowhere near an end, and only time will tell whether the Modi government or the Indian Farmers win the battle.
Moreover, It was more than six months ago that Indian farmers started protesting against three new laws pushed in unilaterally by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The laws aim to change the way agricultural markets operate. But, from the very beginning, the protests have not been only about the intricacies of those laws.
Farmers worry that through the new laws, the government will cut down its wheat and rice procurement. That system of procurement at minimum support prices (MSP) is critical for the livelihoods of farmers in the northern states of Punjab and Haryana in particular. It is farmers from these very states who are protesting.
The laws themselves do not imply a change in the government’s procurement practices. But farmers worry that is what the government intends to do. This fear stems from a series of reports and expert recommendations over the years that have suggested a shift away from the paddy and wheat cycle that dominates croplands in these two states. The transition is crucial because of the prevailing water crisis in both Punjab and Haryana.
In fact, Punjab and Haryana are among the regions facing the most severe water risks, not only in India, but also in the world. Between 2002 and 2008, the aquifers beneath India’s food basket, as this region is known, lost 109 cubic kilometers of water that’s about the volume of water contained in the Dead Sea. The problem is so dire that the government fears that parts of Punjab and Haryana could turn into deserts in the next two decades as most regions may completely exhaust their groundwater resources.
The chief reason for the perilous water crisis is the over-extraction of groundwater. In both states, the amount of water drawn from the ground each year is much greater than the amount recharged. Most of the groundwater is pumped to irrigate fields of wheat in winter or to flood paddy fields during the summer.
That is where the problem lies. On average, wheat and rice are among the most water-intensive crops grown in India. Growing rice in Punjab and Haryana areas with moderate rainfall where parts are described as semiarid is particularly problematic. Three times more water is required to grow a kilogram of rice in Punjab than in the flood plains of Bihar in eastern India.
Farmers in Punjab and Haryana did not always grow rice. In the Punjab of 1960 (which included Haryana) only 5 percent of the cropped land was under rice cultivation. State policy starting in the mid-1960s, when India faced grave food security risks, incentivized rice-wheat monoculture.
With considerable assistance and encouragement from the United States, India ushered in the green revolution. Higher yielding variety of seeds, fertilizers and pesticides were provided to farmers at subsidized rates to increase the productivity of food grains. The green revolution in Punjab and Haryana did achieve food grain sufficiency for India. The two states now account for more than half of the wheat and rice issued to India’s poor. But, its unintended consequence is the water crisis of today.
A key component of the green revolution was the expansion of groundwater irrigation through private tube wells whose acquisition was incentivized via subsidized loans. Recent histories have argued that this was perhaps even more crucial to the green revolution than new seeds or fertilizers. Some have said that the green revolution in India was really the tube well revolution.
But costs are rising now with the depletion of groundwater levels. Tube wells are running dry, and every now and again farmers have to dig deeper into the earth to hit water. This involves large sums of money necessitating debt, which farmers are often unable to repay as their incomes are barely enough to meet expenses. Feeling helpless in the debt trap, several farmers have died by suicide.