For several months Indian farmers have taken to the streets to protest farm bills passed by their government. Because these protests have garnered both domestic and international support, as well as global attention, a discussion has been sparked over the content of these controversial bills. While the government asserts the bills will facilitate increased productivity with the farmers as beneficiaries, the Indian Farm Acts are not only unfair to Indian farmers, but will prove to have destabilizing effects on India’s growth as well.
To give context, the three new bills passed by the Indian parliament, and headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, open up the agriculture industry to the free market. Opening the market would allow farmers to sell directly to private buyers, and store produce for sale. The government claims that these bills will encourage new investment, new technologies, increase productivity — which all seem positive at face value. The problem with this is that it eliminates government-mandated price floors, and eliminates the mandi system — which had most farmers selling goods directly to government-controlled markets. The removal of price floors and the mandi system leaves farmers to rely on the prices offered by third-party corporations. For small farmers without access to proper storage or plentiful land, this ultimately means they will have to sell at a lower and unsustainable rate in order to compete with bigger farms.
Farmers without the ability to withstand the competition of the free market, have now been left to fend for themselves as the bills remove any safety measures. According to Sudha Narayan, an agricultural economist at Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, “The problem with the bills is that they are putting the farmers into the hands of the private players without any safeguards and without any regulations or discipline in terms of price setting. Furthermore, the majority of farmers own small plots of land, with 68% owning less than one hectare of land, and over half who “don’t have enough [produce] to sell”.The vulnerabilities that farmers without enough produce or land face indicate that the system itself is failing them. Reforms would be feasible if the existing system functioned well for farmers; however, farmers’ incomes have been in steady decline and, according to BBC, “declining productivity and lack of modernisation have long hobbled progress.” As a result, the farmers lack access to resources for efficient farming, and cannot adapt to a free market when the government has not equipped them accordingly.
The Indian government also has had a history of neglecting to take care of their farmers, leading to a massive mental health crisis. Ambadas Sanap, a farmer in India says, “‘I don’t have enough electricity but even then, I work day and night.” These farmers have faced suicide epidemics, lack of electricity and subsidized irrigation, and now farm bills that threaten the only markets in which they could sell at a guaranteed price.
Without improving actual infrastructure or circumstance, farmer productivity will not be improved with any measure these bills take; rather, both productivity and conditions will worsen for these farmers. The economic growth the Indian government was anticipating from the legislation will be significantly delayed due to protest. With roughly 800 million Indians whose primary source of income is agriculture, their protests have further proven that these bills will destabilize the country. The refusal to back down and comply with these bills highlights the need to consult with farmers on relevant legislation. Without the cooperation of the farmers, the agricultural sector will suffer in productivity with the farmers refusing to work until the bills are justifiably revoked. The determination of the farmers has been especially compounded by the repeated abuse and neglect by the government, and they now have a movement of condemnation that has gone global. In the wake of this outrage, if the Indian government does not stop these misguided attempts at reform, and prioritize the farmers’ needs, the prospect of economic growth remains weak due to the condemnation they will face and the ferocity of the protests.
Overall, despite the benefits the Modi government and BJP maintain, the farm bills are proven to be unfair to farmers. These bills will not only slow economic growth, but will cause the country to destabilize further, evoking larger protests every day.