'If they add a small paragraph that no purchase will be allowed below the MSP, they have a winner on their hands.'
"The current system of dispute resolution is not up to the mark," Professor Ashwani Mahajan, the Swadeshi Jaagran Manch co-convenor, tells Shobha Warrier/Rediff.com in the concluding segment of the interview:
The way the laws are right now, they give the corporates an upper hand, and the farmers and the consumers are at their mercy. Is that the reason why many people say the bills will give rise to crony capitalism?
I would say the intent of the government has been to empower the farmers, but the outcome is giving upper hand to the corporates
If they add a small paragraph that no purchase will be allowed below the MSP, they have a winner on their hands.
That is why we say that the new bills are good, but you need to make these changes to make them effective for the farmers to get the real benefits.
Would you say that in the current form, the corporates have the advantage?
We are yet to see how it will turn out though it looks like that right now. Because of the weak bargaining power of the farmers, the buyers will be in an advantageous position.
The MSP can even be mentioned in the contract signed before contract farming.
The Bill also allows contract farming agreement between the farmers and corporates or the buyers of the produce. Since a majority of the farmers in India are small farmers, do you think there are more chances of them getting exploited?
I don't disagree with you. At the same time, I would say it has two sides.
Yes, ours is a country of small farmers. Sometimes, they find it difficult to continue with farming and go on to do some other work.
Sometimes, like in Kerala only 20% of the cultivable land is used for cultivation.
So, for the full utilisation of the cultivable land that we have, it is a good option to make use of those who have the resources.
That's why I said, it has two sides.
But you should make sure that the contracts signed are in such a way that the farmers are not exploited by the private parties.
Also, the current system of dispute resolution is not up to the mark. There is no clause about the company going back on its words and not buying the produce.
In the present law also, there is no safeguard mechanism for the farmers except the dispute regulation option the government has made so that arbitrators can be appointed. And that if their decision is not in favour of the farmer, he can approach the SDM.
Again, the decision of the sub-divisional magistrate is final. If that also goes against the farmer, where will he go?
Yes, the SDM has been given all the powers in the whole game. And this is not a very good dispute regulation mechanism.
Moreover, farmers are also pointing out the same thing.
So, there should be a better dispute resolution mechanism like farmers's courts on the same lines of consumer courts. The farmers's courts will also reduce the litigation in the general court.
Since it is advantage corporates in whatever that is in the new bills, are we going to see a new form of zamindari system?
No. I don't see that happening because the farmer can say no to the contract any time. His land will not be taken away by anyone at any time.
What I am saying is, to maximise the benefits from the present law, it is essential to make these changes.
Another thing we want is, at present the farmer is given the money only after the farming is over. Instead he should be given the money in 2-3 instalments at different stages of the crop. This will have many advantages; for example, the farmer doesn't have to go to the moneylenders for loan.
We also want to highlight that there is no registration of traders or buyers now; anyone can purchase the produce. We feel there should be a registration of traders to safeguard the interests of the farmers.
Also, anybody purchasing at the farm gate should make the payment immediately.
Last year, PepsiCo penalised the potato farmers of Gujarat for using the same seed variety, and the farmers's organisations had to agitate and approach the court.
They could not penalise the farmers because Swadeshi Jaagran Manch was there!
When Pepsi filed a case against the potato farmers, we made a statement that Pepsi was wrong and its act was illegal because seeds, lives and plants could not be patented as per the law of the land.
There is this Article 3(j) in the Patent Act that says this.
Then, according to the Plant Variety and Farmers Right Act, farmers have the right to produce, exchange and sell seeds. Nobody can take away this right from the farmers.
When Swadeshi Jaagran Manch made this clear, Pepsi in the US instructed the Indian arm to withdraw the case, and they withdrew it.