The drafts of the Bills were first tabled in the Kisan Mukti Sansad of women farmers on November 20th 2017 on Parliament Street, after nation-wide Kisan Mukti Yatras in many states from June 2017 to November 2017. After that, in more than 60 locations, detailed consultations were organised to obtain feedback from farmers, farm union leaders, legal and agricultural experts and the Bills were revised by March 2018. These Bills were then discussed in a Round Table in Constitution Club where 21 political parties lent their written support to these Bills and also called for a Special Session of the Parliament to discuss and pass these Bills. A committee of political party leaders was formed and in the Parliament House Annexe, a one day meeting was held to fine-tune the Bills clause-by-clause. These Bills were then introduced into the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha as private members’ bills.
AIKSCC leaders also met with the President Shri Ramnath Kovind, urging him to convene a Special Session of Parliament for discussing and passing the Bills. In the month of May 2018, on the day that the First War of Indian Independence was started in 1857, in hundreds of districts across the country, memoranda signed by lakhs of citizens were handed over to district collectors, addressed to the Chairperson of Rajya Sabha and Speaker of Lok Sabha, urging them to convene a special session. After this, June 6th was marked by AIKSCC as MandsaurShaheedKisanSmritiDiwa
AIKSCC has also been actively engaged with the issue of MSPs that got declared for Kharif and Rabi crops of 2018 and has been following up on the ground to watch the prices being realised by farmers. It is clear that commitments by the government are not being met on both fronts (MSP amounts fixed being far lower than what farmers should get at C2+50%, and realised prices being far lower than MSPs announced).
CONFERRING LEGAL RIGHTS ON FARMERS FOR FREEDOM FROM INDEBTEDNESS AND GUARANTEED REMUNERATIVE PRICES FOR ALL AGRICULTURAL COMMODITIES
It is interesting to note that despite being very active and visible in trying to secure their various demands related to agriculture, and being perceived as powerful political lobbies, farmer unions in India have never sought to secure their demands in the form of legal entitlements so far. Contrast this with what peasants’ movements have achieved in the form of land reforms and tenancy laws, or other people’s movements have achieved as Right To Information, or Right to Education or Right to Guaranteed Rural Employment. The Women’s Rights Movement has been the most impressive of all in terms of legal rights it has been able to secure in different spheres of life for women in our society. Against this background, it is indeed perplexing that farmers’ movements have not set out to get statutes enacted for themselves on some of their long standing demands. It is only in the last one year that a serious movement to get two statutes around Freedom From Indebtedness and Guaranteed Remunerative Prices has begun in the country, through a national platform of farmer unions called All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC).
1. Farmers in India often and routinely obtain prices for their agricultural produce that are lower than the cost of production. This is evident in both farmers’ own calculations of cost of production, in agriculture universities’ estimations and even the officially accepted cost of production that the Commission on Agricultural Costs and Prices uses for its price recommendations. This means that farmers are left with no profit margins for meeting living costs of the family or to invest on their enterprise’s growth. This is a direct and proximal reason for their low incomes, lack of social status and decreasing interest in farming. The reasons for such low prices are many and complex, including the fact that in a globalised world driven by liberal trade, our farmers are made to compete with heavily-subsidised imported cheaper produce.
In both the above, it is the marginal and small farmers who are the worst affected in addition to tenant farmers. Tenant farmers in fact have a greater need for financing given that in most locations, sharecropping is giving way to lease-rent-on-cash basis of land cultivation arrangements.It is in such a context that a new platform of around 200 farmers’ organisations called All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC) has created two draft statutes, which have now been introduced as Private Members’ Bills in the Parliament.DEMAND:
It is proposed that two comprehensive laws, which confer legal rights on all farmers be tabled by the Government of India and passed by the Parliament, which are centred around (i) Freedom From Indebtedness and (ii) Guaranteed, Remunerative Prices. These are to be seen as inter-related immediate steps to address the agrarian crisis and it is nobody’s case to state that agrarian crisis in India would be addressed by this alone. Within the two Bills tabled, the main features are given below.
The Farmers Freedom from Indebtedness Bill 2018:
- Expansive definition of Farmer to include agricultural workers, women farmers and others, with or without land ownership
- Right of every farmer to access institutional credit by enumeration and registration of all actual cultivators/farmers
- Statutory, institutional provisions for setting up of a National Farmers’ Distress and Disaster Relief Commission and State Farmers’ Distress and Disaster Relief Commissions. The purpose is to provide relief from debt burden to distressed farmers as and when distress occurs due to factors beyond their control, avoiding debt accumulation and suicides.
- Powers to the Commission to pro-actively recommend the notification of “Distress affected area” or “Distress affected crop”, and orders for relief to such distress affected farmers
- Various options of Debt Relief for Distress-affected farmers, to be invoked by Commission based on the situation, including interest-free reschedule, interest waiver, partial/full loan write-off
- Bar and injunction on proceedings against a distress affected farmer
- Reform of priority lending norms and ensuring compliance to the same
- Effective disaster relief and crop insurance
- Promotion of low cost ecological agriculture
This Bill also provides a right to all farmers to receive a one-time immediate and complete loan waiver to start afresh to build their lives and enterprises. This has been a clear pending demand from farmers’ organisations. Such a loan waiver should be able to cover private loans as well as find mechanisms of not disincentivising those farmers who managed to repay regularly. These aspects have been addressed in the AIKSCC Bill.
The Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative Minimum Support Prices Bill, 2018:
- This statute confers a right on every farmer to guaranteed remunerative minimum support prices (GRMSP) for all agricultural commodities. This is not just about higher MSPs announced, but remunerative prices realised by farmers.
- The Bill lays down the methodology for comprehensive estimation of cost of production by including detailed components in its Schedule and also determination of MSP with a profit margin of at least 50% over such cost of production, in addition to empowering state governments to notify bonuses over and above the central MSP.
- A Central Farmers’ Agricultural Costs and Remunerative Price Guarantee Commission is the institutional mechanism at the central level, while State Farmers’ Agricultural Costs and Remunerative Price Guarantee Commissions are to be set up at state level.
- The Bill specifies numerous mechanisms for implementation of the GRMSP, in terms of regulation in market yards as well as procurement centres, other market interventions, measures to regulate imports, measures to prevent distress sales, investments on Farmer Producer Organisations, measures to reduce and regulate input costs.
- The AIKSCC Bill has provisions for accountability through designated and notified public authorities. It also lays down clauses that seek to ensure that benefits of the statute go to the actual cultivators.
- Apart from offences and penalties related to failure to comply with provisions of the statute in market yards or even lack of effective and timely procurement, the Bill has Grievance Redressal and Compensation mechanisms.
The Bill obligates the Central and State Governments to set aside adequate funds to fulfil the rights conferred on farmers.
ASHA is one of the constituents of AIKSCC and two of ASHA’s national convenors are also members of the National Working Group of AIKSCC.
AIKSCC is now organising a Kisan Mukti March to get the Parliament to pass these two Bills. On 29th of November 2018, tens of thousands of
farmers are going to walk into Delhi’s Ramleela Maidan, and from there, the next morning, converge on Boat Club or Parliament Street on
the 30th of November 2018.
AIKSCC website: www.aikscc.com