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Farmers from Punjab, Haryana have stationed themselves at Delhi’s doorstep resulting in a standoff between the Centre and farm bodies. They are protesting against the laws that were passed in September, fearing they take away the promise of a guaranteed sum. Mint explores.

Why are the current protests exceptional?

Previous protests staged in Delhi lasted for mostly a day or two, with demonstrations by farmers who voiced demands of loan waivers and remunerative prices. This time, the farmers have come prepared to the national capital. The protestors are mostly farmers from Punjab and Haryana, who are also among the richest in the country. These regions predominantly grow wheat, mustard and cotton. Many believe the government did not consult the farmers before framing these laws. However, these laws have been suggested by experts for many decades and passed by an elected government.

What are the demands placed by farmers?

The farmers want the government to repeal the recently framed laws, which give traders and food firms the freedom to purchase outside mandis, regulated by Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC), and enter into contracts with farmers. They also want the government to ensure that the minimum support price (MSP) it currently gives is made a law. They fear losing their income, as guaranteed by the MSP, following which they would be left at the mercy of big corporates who would have leverage while negotiating prices. A law with an MSP provision will guarantee them a minimum income

State support
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State support

How does the minimum support policy work?

Each year, before the sowing season, the Centre announces the MSP of key crops, providing farmers a price signal and assuring purchase of their produce at least at the set price, if not more. MSP also acts as a level below which market prices cannot fall. Over the years, the MSPs of crops have risen, working as an incentive for farmers to produce more.

Would the new farm laws really work?

The new laws don’t do away with the APMCs but create competition for them by introducing private players. This has its own positives and negatives. APMCs are dominated by politicians and big traders and farmers need not kowtow to them. Another benefit is that farmers from one state can now go to another state and sell their produce at any price. This is, however, easier said than done, given the meagre means of our farmers. The new laws take away the ‘comfort’ of an APMC even as it retains MSP.

What lies at the crux of this problem?

Farming is not remunerative in India, though rich farmers exist. Agriculture is the most regulated sector and that has not helped as other sectors are open to competition, even as they are subjected to own set of laws. Far too many people are dependent on farming and it may be time to move some of them to other sectors. For now, the Centre has ramped up procurement and assured farmers the laws will not dilute the MSP regime. Barring wheat and paddy, the Centre does not procure other crops under MSP protection.

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