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Turning the Fantasy of 'Free-Markets' and 'Choice' in Indian Agriculture Into Reality

9 27 20

Farmer organisations that have been on the warpath against the big changes being initiated in Indian agriculture walked out of their recent meeting with ministry officials in Delhi.

The prime minister also recently assured farmers that the minimum support price (MSP) regime is not being eliminated and that Agricultural Produce Market Committee mandis are only being made more competitive. But the gap between the farmer position and that of the government is not narrowing.

One thing both sides agree on is that the changes being introduced are game changers but from opposite ends.

The prime minister believes they are for the good of the farmers who will be able to obtain a better price for their crop. On the other hand, farmers believe the Bills are detrimental to their interests since they will corporatise agriculture.

Free markets and choice

It is claimed that the farmers will be freed from the clutches of the middlemen (arhtiyas and traders) who short-charge the farmers by pocketing a large part of the price of the produce. It is argued that APMC is the problem and the agriculturist will be freed from its hold.

Also read: Middlemen or Service Providers: What Role Do Arhtiyas Play in Market Yards?

But it is also stated that neither the APMC nor the MSP will be eliminated so that the farmers will have a greater choice. They can sell their produce wherever they get a higher price – in the APMC or outside it.

The key words here are ‘free markets’ and ‘choice’.

One needs to ask whether the markets for agricultural produce are currently ‘free’, whether they can be made free by changes in marketing laws and whether that will enable the farmers to have a ‘choice’?

Farmer protests in the last few years have highlighted their precarious economic situation. So, there were problems with the existing system but the question is whether the three new bills together will resolve them.

It needs to be clarified that farmers are not a homogenous lot and face diverse kinds of problems. It is said that only 6% of the farmers benefit from MSP and only 22 commodities are covered under it. For instance, it does not apply to those producing vegetables and fruits.

Structure of agricultural markets

The basic problem facing the farmers needs to be identified. They produce essentials........

© The Wire

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