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Reforms Attracting Private Sector to Agriculture Marketing Draws Ire of Workers

Agriculture workers instead demanded direct cash transfers and additional work days under rural employment scheme to mitigate hardships caused by the COVID-19 induced lockdown.
Privatisation of agriculture markets

Fearing that the recently announced agricultural reforms will further recede the agrarian population to penury, agricultural workers staged a protest across the country on Thursday, June 4.

The rural labourers, already struggling to make ends meet in the wake of the COVID-19 induced nationwide lockdown, have denounced the Centre’s steps to deregulate the agrarian economy- thus leaving it to the whims and fancies of the private market.

Led by All India Agricultural Workers Union (AIAWU), the labourers, have instead demanded direct cash transfers and additional work days under rural employment scheme to mitigate hardships.

The demonstration of the agrarian labourers was observed in 15 states. In Kerala, workers in as many as 10,000 village units and in Punjab at least 14 out of 22 districts, marked their protests. While states including Maharashtra and Telangana saw demonstrations at work sites of workers engaged in employment scheme, namely, National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA); labourers flocked to panchayat bhavan in some districts of Uttar Pradesh.

Also read: All India Agricultural Workers Union Protest: ‘Ensure Workers’ Welfare and Strengthen Rural Economy’

In light of the outbreak of viral infection, adherence to social distancing norms were seen to be followed. According to Vikram Singh of AIAWU, these protests at different levels reflects the plight of the agricultural workers. Many of the workers have lost their livelihood during the lockdown period; their hardships will only increase if private entities are further invited to the agricultural economy, he said.

On Wednesday, the Narendra Modi–led central government introduced a set of structural changes to the agriculture sector. The union cabinet approved two ordinances and an amendment to the essential commodities act, claiming that it “will go a long way in helping India’s farmers”.

However, Singh believes otherwise. “The two ordinances aim at encouraging private procurement of farmers produce,” he said, adding, “this will further drive down the prices [as opposed to Centre’s claims] owing to less bargaining power of the farmers.”

Since earnings of farmers will be see a drop, it will also have its effect on the wages of agricultural workers, he added.

The ordinance, namely, Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Facilitation and Promotion) Ordinance, 2020, paves the way for ‘One India, One Agriculture Market’, thereby allowing the buyers to procure farmers’ produce outside of state-regulated markets. Another ordinance, namely, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020, aims to attract private sector investment, introducing contract-farming arrangements in the agricultural economy.

Both will result in further deregulation of the agricultural sector, Singh fears, which will not only bring further economic insecurity to the rural population, but also jeopardise food security of the whole nation.

Moreover, it is unfortunate that the move to deregulate the agricultural sector has come at a time when more support from the government was needed, Singh added. The nationwide lockdown came into effect on the midnight of March 24-25, as a result of which the subsequent harvesting months – of April and May – were lost, since agricultural workers, a large number of which are seasonal migrants, chose to return to their native places. 

We demand the government to assist these workers with a cash transfer of Rs. 7,500, said Singh, adding that things would also improve if the work days under NREGA scheme are increased from 100 to 200.

The Centre has instead turned its back on them and choose to continue serving the big private companies by further opening up the agricultural market to them, Singh alleged.

Also watch: Agricultural Markets in India : A Case of Misplaced Reforms

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