For many farm leaders, the only fear was that state procurement at minimum support prices (MSP) along with mandi operations would end by the government has categorically assured farmers that both would continue. Farmers can go to the mandi if they want, or sell outside depending on where they get a better price.
The bills remove restrictions on sale and transportation of farm produce and allows them to enter into contracts with large buyers at an assured price. Another bill frees agricultural trade and stocking from draconian provisions of the Essential Commodities Act.
P Chengal Reddy, chief advisor, Consortium of Indian Farmers’ Association, welcomed the three farm bills. “Farmers welcome the APMC reforms initiated by farmers. APMCs were started for the benefit of the farmers. But they were at the mercy of the artiyas and the middlemen. We can now directly enter into contracts with large scale retail, the processing industries or for export purposes,” said Reddy.
Southern states, where MSP operations are not significant, are largely supportive of reforms. Maharashtra has already deleted fruits and vegetables from APMC jurisdiction and started private mandis and direct marketing long ago
Shetkari Sangathana from Maharashtra, which has sought these changes for decades, welcomed the move. Its president Anil Ghanvat said traders at mandis exploited farmers. “The farm bills remove the compulsion on the farmer to sell at the APMC. There will be competition among buyers, which can result in better prices for farmers. Farmers will also gain by saving expenses like on transport of their produce to the APMCs,” he said.
The Kisanputra Andolan, a group of farm activists also supports the changes. “We support the introduction of the three bills. However, the provision to regulate prices of some commodities during emergency situations in the Essential Commodities Act is still a hindrance to realise full freedom of marketing for farmers. We would like a complete repeal of the EC Act and the Land Ceiling Act,” said Amar Habib, founder of the Kisanputra Andolan.
Ajay Vir Jakhar, chairman, Punjab State Farmers‘ Commission, is worried about MSP, without which farmers would lose Rs 15,000 crore in wheat and rice. “Our apprehensions are that the unlimited MSP procurement may be stopped. The government has said it will continue but not explained in which way will it continue. We believe that the central government does want to help the farmers but is unable to find a way or understand how to do it.”
Organisations like Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture headed by Kavitha Kuruganti, the All India Kisan Sabha, RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh and many others have opposed the three bills.
Speaking at a webinar organised by ASHA, agricultural economist Sudha Narayanan said, “Complete removal of regulatory oversight and data and intelligence is an important worrying factor. There is a possibility that the old structures will be replicated outside the mandi.”