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'Farmers believe Modi can do anything to help his corporate friends'

By PRASANNA D ZORE
January 11, 2021 15:05 IST
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'This government is so fond of some corporate friends that they can always amend existing laws or make new laws.'

IMAGE: A farmer covers himself with a warm blanket during the ongoing protest against the farm laws at the Singhu border in New Delhi. Photograph: Rahul Singh/ANI Photo
 

In 2018, Devappa Anna Shetti aka Raju Shetti, of the Swabhimani Paksha had tabled two private member bills in the Lok Sabha -- when he represented the Hatkanangle constituency in Maharashtra -- on farmers issues. One dealt with guaranteed MSP for their produce; the other suggested ways to pull farmers out of debt.

The two bills have come into focus now with agitating farmers demanding that the government consider the provisions of these two bills in place of the new farm laws which they have been opposing.

In the concluding part of his interview with Prasanna D Zore/Rediff.com, Shetti says, "The government will have to bend backwards. They don't have any other option."

Won't contract farming help farmers reap benefits of scale and modernisation?

At no point has contract farming benefitted farmers. The clauses in contract farming are always discriminatory to the farmers.

These clauses are so worded that big contractors always get to make excuses to not purchase farmers' produce when the price of their produce increases.

They start finding fault with farmers' agricultural produce.

They find excuses like high water content in farm produce, complain about the quality and texture, etc.

Given their size and scale and political clout, these contractors browbeat the farmers into selling their produce at depressed prices even when the market prices are high.

They take cops along with them to the farmer and tell him that he has violated some or the other clause of the contract and threaten them with arrests.

The poor farmer is left with no choice but to give in and sell his produce at prices dictated by contractors.

What's the nature of these contract farming agreements that works against the farmers?

There are two types of contracts: One in which the farmer leases out his entire farm to the contractor and the latter undertakes agricultural activity.

The second contract revolves around crops or vegetables produced by the farmers, the price for which is fixed mutually; while it says mutually, the contractor always dictates the prices.

I have already detailed how contractors have their way in the second type of agreement.

The agreement where the farmer leases out his land for longer duration to the contractors also works against the farmer.

Let's say that a big contractor enters into an agreement with scores of farmers and creates a unified cluster of 200-500 acres of land for producing export quality crops or vegetables. Such agreements usually call for land lease of 25-30 years.

While the government and the new laws envisage ownership of land remaining with the farmer, which might be the case, the fact also remains that the contractor, for whatever reasons, could change the structure of these land parcels.

If your farm has a well or some other structure on it, these contractors will level them up to make way for modernised and large-scale farming activities.

The contractor will also erase all the boundaries between the land parcels leased from different farmers and suppose he raises a greenhouse on these farms.

Now there is all the chance that this corporate contractor, on the basis of such long-term lease contracts, approaches a bank for loan and easily gets it.

In this country if a Nirav Modi can get a loan, why won't these big contractors get loans worth thousands of crores of rupees?

And suppose after such borrowing if that contractor winds up his operations for whatever reasons or faces severe losses, then what the contractor has mortgaged is the land he had leased from the farmer.

Now, the banks will take the matter to courts against this contractor to recover their loan, and in the meantime the farmers who had leased out their land will stop getting rents.

With their land parcels under dispute and with the banks holding the lien over these land parcels, the farmers can't even sub-let it to some other contractor.

These kinds of complications are happening even in America and the farmers there are now understanding the perils of contract farming.

I am purposely talking about the experience of American farmers because our prime minister leaves no chance to cite American examples to make his point.

Can a corporate contractor get a loan from banks with the land parcels as mortgage? There is no law as such that allows contractors to borrow money on leased land.

No, they cannot do that, but this government claims that corporates can get a loan based on contracts they sign with farmers.

This government is so fond of some corporate friends that they can always amend existing laws or make new laws to make this possible.

The farmers have such distrust for the Modi government that they believe he can do anything to help his corporate friends.

Do you think with the farmers intensifying their agitation against the three farm laws, the Modi government will roll back these laws?

The government will have to bend backwards. They don't have any other option.

What was the need to enact laws that harm farmers' interests when the whole nation was under lockdown?

Do you think farmers can pressurise the Modi government to make a law that includes provisions of the two private members' bills that you had tabled in the Lok Sabha?

The provisions of the two bills were not formulated by Raju Shetti alone. Before tabling the two bills in Lok Sabha, we had consultation with 240 farmers organisations in India. We had held discussions with farmers from India's farthest corners during an 11,000-km yatra across the country.

We had discussed the draft of these bills with Constitutional experts so as not to face any stumbling block in Parliament.

We wanted a law that would be in consonance with India's Constitution.

We also discussed our draft with political leaders from important parties. We had three extended discussions on each and every clause of these two bills in the Parliament annexe.

Heavyweights like Rahul Gandhi and Sharad Pawar were also present during these discussions. As many as 21 Opposition parties supported these two bills after making suggestions which were incorporated while drafting the clauses of these two bills before I tabled it in Parliament.

is the Opposition serious about helping farmers with their demands?

If the Opposition was so serious, would the farmers be sitting in this bitter cold, face water cannons and teargas shells for more than a month to get the government accept their demand?

Opposition madhe kahich dum nahi; poochat aahet te (the Opposition is not strong at all; they are all damp squibs).

Let me make another allegation with all seriousness about India's Opposition leaders. Big corporate houses have big political leaders from the Opposition in their pocket.

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PRASANNA D ZORE / Rediff.com
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