Memorandum to the President of India Demanding the repeal of the three agricultural laws of 2020

Egalitarian Trails

To the President of India, Shri Ram Nath Kovid
Rashtrapati Bhawan,
President’s Estate
New Delhi – 110004

via the Joint Secretary cum Social Secretary to the President,

Dated 12th January, 2021

Subject: Demanding the repeal of the three agricultural laws of 2020

On the 21st day of the dharna, Baba Ram Singh, a Sikh Sant from Haryana, an activist in the peasant protest, made the ultimate sacrifice by ending his life. His tragic yet resilient martyrdom speaks for the crores of farmers, their exploitation by and resistance against the State atrocities. In his last letter Baba Ram Singh declared the act of taking his life as an expression of his outrage and agony at the Government’s ongoing injustice towards its people. Even prior to the sacrifice of Baba Ram Singh, since September, participants in the farmers’ movement have been offering their life in martyrdom. More recently, a few other protestors, including a young 22 years old lawyer from Punjab, have chosen the same path in order to strengthen the collective’s resolve of carrying the movement forward and communicating the urgency to the powers that be. 

By now it is only too well known how peasants from Punjab have for long been in the throes of a terrible agrarian crisis, as have been their counterparts from the rest of the country. The loud but unheard cries of innumerable farmers committing suicide for the past many years, including the more recent ones, bears testimony to their unending suffering.

We stand with the peaceful struggle of all farmers— old and young —living and sleeping in the open since 26th November 2020. Camped near the borders of India’s capital city, Delhi, they have been surviving much hardship with intermittent rains lashing their makeshift shelters amidst a biting winter setting in. With little provisions in place for their basic needs, especially those related to toilets and sanitation, they are being forced to live in appallingly unhygienic and congested conditions as the Indian Government has chosen this very time to spring the three anti-farmer Laws upon them. Their hardships are further compounded by the threat of the corona pandemic looming large over their heads.  It is to be noted that since November 26th 2020, more than 50 activists have already lost their lives.

The introduction of the three farming laws is an indication of the fact that rather than extending support to the farmers in their ongoing agrarian crisis, the Indian Government wants to dis-empower them completely in the interest of big corporates. Displaying a reckless abdication of its duties to the people in favour of the greedy corporates, the sudden imposition of such Laws by the Government comes across as an atrocious act.

We stand with the farmers resisting the three Agricultural laws. The farmers of Punjab and Haryana are unanimously asserting that the sole purpose of these three Laws is to primarily give the corporate sector, particularly. the two towering capitalists, Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani, the ability to take over the rights, land and labour of crores of farmers of Punjab, Haryana and from the rest of India and also, on the other side, to destroy the already inadequate food security system, price controls, and the availability of food at reasonable prices so essential for the people, especially the economically marginalised. Consequently this will cause catastrophic disruption, hunger and destitution at a national scale. Furthermore, the Government is not paying any heed to the opinion of the affected people, is making all these changes without any public consultation, in an absolutely authoritarian and secretive way thereby destroying the very fabric of our democracy and the constitution.

We support the farmers who are determined that nothing short of full repeal of such atrocious bills and a bill on MSP (Minimum Support Price) as per Swaminathan Report and guaranteed public procurement will make them give up their struggle. The struggling farmers have not given in to the Government’s proposition of ‘modifications’ offered to them. The farmers can see through the Government’s fear and growing insecurity in the face of the immense strength, anger and rapidly growing support for the movement.  This has already pushed the Government to a point where it has started to retreat, offering the farmers small concessions in a bid to persuade them to give up their movement. Despite all the State’s perfidies, campaign to malign and divide, the movement stands absolutely strong!

We stand by the farmers who, as mentioned earlier, are not compromising on their stands even as they connect the present crisis to their historical memory and past legacy.  More than hundred years ago, in around 1907, farmers of Punjab had risen in revolt against the three farm Acts enacted by the colonial regime which  would have taken the rights of the peasants over their produce, making them serfs on their own land.  At that time Chacha Ajit Singh, the uncle of Bhagat Singh, Lala Lajpat Rai and others had led a revolt where the theme song was “PAGRI SAMVAL JATTA”… The symbolic import of the song was an invocation to the peasants to rise and stand up against the loot of their dignity and property. The Delhi Raj was in panic. They tried to pacify the peasants by amending the bills, giving concessions. The movement would not be tricked and finally the Bills had to be withdrawn in toto. The momentum gathered by the agitating peasantry contributed effectively to the awareness and synergy of the Indian people’s movement against colonial rule. It is no wonder then that today’s outraged farmers have named one of their mammoth dharna sites at the Delhi border as CHACHA AJIT SINGH NAGAR and made “PAGRI SAMVAL JATTA” one of their theme song!

We condemn the Central Government’s response of making war on its own farmers instead of responding democratically to the demands raised by them. In the past, before and during the colonial times, we were used to seeing the rulers making war on the people. It is shocking that similar things are happening till today, at an accelerated pace since 2014.  The Government  first passed these three laws in an arbitrary manner, then made all attempts to prevent the farmers from reaching Delhi to raise their demands by using force, barricading as well as digging up roads, making trenches, water cannoning and attacking the people. Then they went on to file hundreds of cases against the protesters. In order to stop the movement of the farmers the Government not only deployed a large number of security forces but also made massive attempts to block the Haryana, Rajasthan and UP border of Delhi. Some members and ministers of the ruling Government openly undermined, discredited and misrepresented the demands of the agitating farmers. The Government’s ministers and puppet media and social network sites, went as far as calling the protesters ‘pseudo-farmers’, ‘anti-nationals’, ‘Khalistani’, ‘Terrorists’ and ‘Naxalites’. The state and its supporters have also been demeaning the farmers’ striving for their rights by calling it as an opposition sponsored protest.  Another attempt to humiliate and slight the struggle has been by calling the women protestors as “paid protestors”. All of the above attempts to malign the current resistance are in line with the Government’s and its media’s strategies to degrade and silence any and every people’s resistance using the same tokens.

It is pertinent to recall today that we achieved Independence seventy plus years ago when the absolutist power of the colonial Government was overthrown. Subsequently, we created a constitutional democracy that was, to an extent, based on principles of equality, fraternity and justice. The same is under severe threat since 2014, and thus we believe the poem “PAGRI SAMVAL JATTA” has now become even more relevant for all of us, citizens of India, to protect our Democracy, Secularism, Federalism, our human rights and our Constitution as a whole.

Standing for the rights of the farmers and also for our democracy and constitutional rights as such, we condemn the autocratic manner in which these Laws were passed in the Indian Parliament in September 2020 by flouting all democratic and constitutional norms and procedures. It is pertinent to note that all processes ensuring transparency were bypassed.  The draft of the laws was not brought to the public domain, no comments and opinions were invited from the stake-holders/ public and hence they were arbitrarily passed without any public knowledge and participation. Moreover it is significant to note that the laws were passed in the middle of the crisis caused by the Corona pandemic that had already devastated the people economically, emotionally and psychologically and had severely restricted their ability to communicate, reflect and protest.  As is well known, because of the sudden and autocratic imposition of the lockdown in March 2020, as a country we have already faced the colossal tragedy of losing hundreds and thousands of economically marginalised people. The severe hardships that the migrant labourers had to go through during the lockdown are actually impossible to put into words.  Despite making such a blunder then, the Government has once again shamelessly imposed its dictatorial ways by pushing through the Agricultural laws.

The Government keeps on promulgating destructive orders, laws, abrogations, and degradation of legal rights that flout the principle of equality, democracy, secularism. Laws are being made without any respect for the people, the marginalized, particularly   the minority religious communities at every level. The three agricultural laws also are geared towards exploiting the already marginalised sections of the society. We stand against this authoritarian regime and its undemocratic policies being imposed on the people in every corner of the country since 2014.

It is pertinent to note that the farmers’ struggle has already progressed  far beyond demanding the protection of  the minimum support price (MSP) and the repeal of the two new and one amendment law on farming, namely the, The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Act, 2020, known as the APMC bypass Act; The Farmers (Empowerment And Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020,  known as the Contract Act and the third The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020. It needs to be mentioned that this immensely determined movement has assumed the proportion of a  striving for survival of more than one half of India’s population  that constitutes the farming community. It is emerging as a forceful resistance against the corporate control of key dimensions of the agricultural economy and operations from production, ranging from fair pricing, to stocking (hoarding), to markets and to retail marketing. The looming fear is that if these laws are not repealed, then they would lead to a situation of landlessness, bondage and utter impoverishment of farmers. Given the nature of the severe agricultural crisis that has been growing in the last years and the Government’s response so far, these fears seem threateningly real and logical.

The writing on the wall is clear—in the absence of any regulation on hoarding, there will be an uncontrolled price rise leading to a decline in the purchasing power of all economically marginalized  people and even large sections of the middle classes. There is also a possibility that this might result in increasing exports of food grains, while a large and growing number of people in India will be pushed to starvation.  In the former years the Government has given leadership to less developed countries to resist the surmounting pressure of the World Trade Organization and other developed countries to compromise on the crucial principles of food self-sufficiency and food security and hence defended the public stockholding of food-grains for the purposes of the PDS and effective implementation of Food Security Act. Today what we actually are in need of is an expansion of the MSPs and effective procurement to all crops. We are also in urgent need of policies and Laws which will be in favor of all farmers, particularly small farmers, while improving nutrition as these can then be included in the PDS basket.

We are most disturbed by the gross curtailments of legal rights by the current political dispensation. New sections have been introduced that would deny the farmers legal recourse for redressal of their grievances.  The grossness of such bars confirm the farmers’ logic that these Laws cannot be amended and have to be taken back  all together as the intent is malicious. Sections 13, of the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Act, 2020, very clearly goes on to state that “No suit, prosecution or other legal proceedings shall lie against the Central Government or the State Government, or any officer of the Central Government or the State Government or any other person in respect of anything which is in good faith done or intended to be done under this Act or of any rules or orders made thereunder. Similarly, sections 15, and 18 of the Act categorically take away the complete rights of the farmers or any other person filing a PIL or going to any court against any Governmental authority or “any other person”, implying the corporates operating the agro business.  The victimised farmers can only take   their grievances to the SDM level functionary of the Government, ironically the very Government that has a strong nexus with the corporates in introducing and making these anti-constitutional laws! Therefore, in regard to the above sections, in case the farmers are being cheated by the company they are transacting with, they do not have the right to go to the court.  `We assert that this denial of civil suits as a remedy–when there is a real possibility in the future of disputes between the trader and contractee and other similar parties—is against all norms of democracy. The revenue authorities like SDM have a limited jurisdiction of revenue records; the very fact that the administrative authorities are being given these sweeping powers at the cost of jeopardizing the clear principle of separation of powers between the judiciary and executive to prevent vested interest, demonstrates the unprecedented bias of the Laws.   Besides this, for people as consumers when facing grave hardships, hunger, famine, violation of crucial right as in FSA, threat to right of life and livelihood in large scale because of illegal and fraudulent activities by traders like hoardings, price hiking, creation of food scarcity, famine and so on their rights to file PILs, to seek legal justice has been taken away by these aforementioned sections of this Act. Thus gigantic profit-driven corporates are being given a blank check to do anything, violate any principle of fair-play, any law, and constitutional rights without bothering about any legal challenge from the side of the victims. For the first time in India the people are being denied their constitutional right to get legal redressal from any court of law for the violation of their constitutional rights.

We emphasize that these three Laws are the first step towards implementation of the recommendations of the High Level Committee led by Shanta Kumar  submitted in 2015 and the subsequent policies of the Government in favour of wholesale privatization. Their main features are: Dismantling of the APMC (Mandis), MSP (Minimum Support Price) and thereby the Public Procurement System; dismantling of the Food Corporation of India; dismantling of the PDS (Public Distribution System)/ rationing system. This replacing of the PDS with a dubious cash subsidy which as it is goes against the right to food & dignity of the economically marginalized people and that under  patriarchy where women are subdued by the men in the family, will never replace the basic food requirement and will weakening of the National Food Security Act (2013). Such handing over most of these sectors of agriculture (production, procurement, storage, distribution/ marketing) to corporate players when hunger and malnutrition is so extensive in India is irresponsible to a frightening extent. Struggles by the concerned groups and Right to Food litigation in the Supreme Court had resulted in numerous orders ensuring food, nutritional and livelihood security for millions of poor and marginalised Indian communities. At this juncture, Government is taking no action to improve this situation by strengthening food security regime and PDS. On the other hand, these new laws and amendments are clearly part of the larger project of the state withdrawing from its obligation towards ensuring food & nutrition security for all that is cynical, opportunistic and utterly cruel.

We stand by the farmers who are rejecting the Government’s call that, the farmers need to believe that it stands for the best interest of the farmers, hence is trustworthy. The experience of the farmers has been absolutely contrary to all the major promises made so far by the State. It is important to remember that in the 2014 election manifesto of the BJP it had been promised that the M.S. Swaminathan commission formula of providing MSP calculated at the rate of whole of investment by the farmer (C2 formula) plus 50% would be implemented within one year. This was never done under various pretexts. On the contrary the Swaminathan commission formula was degraded to the formula of taking only some parts of the investment and not the whole as stated in the original formula and then perversely claiming the promise to be fulfilled!

The existing systems from production, procurement and distribution are obviously terribly faulty and urgently in need of improvement. Rather than  strengthening these systems by broadening their scope to reduce the problem of the peasants  and also  the problem of the food consumers as well as addressing the hunger of the economically marginalized, the Government, on the contrary, is doing the just the opposite. It is moving towards dismantling these systems in interest of the mega-corporates, the hoarders and speculators, and handing over the agriculture, production and distribution to them. This will surely destroy the peasants / producers but will also be a massive blow to the food recipients, people of the marginalized classes and even the middle class will be affected in a most adverse manner.  ‘Indian State’s’ sudden betrayal of farmers  and  farmer’s awareness of losing their control on their land and produce and being sold off  and handed over to the corporate has pushed them to a point of  desperation, that has positively risen in  the form of the  recent  historic democratic revolt that we stand with. Multiple attempts to dislodge them have failed and they have managed to block main borders of Delhi.

We demand from the Government of India, that:

1.  These three farmer’s laws be repealed

2. The recommendation of the Swaminathan commission formula of providing MSP calculated at the rate of whole of investment (C2 formula) by the farmer plus 50% should be fulfilled for all the major crops, along with guaranteed public procurement

3. Cases filed against the farmers be immediately withdrawn

4. The BJP Government must respect the democratic rights of speech and protest of the Indian citizens and the Constitution of India as such;

5. The Government must take the responsibility of ensuring the independent, self-reliant and sustainable nature of Indian agriculture

6. The principles of federalism  must be granted due respect by the central Government; the latter  must relate and work  with state Governments in a mutual and equal manner in order to embolden the interests of the farming  community, and all  aspects related to agriculture..

7. The dangerous shift in lawmaking that empowers the executive with extra powers must be undone with immediate effect as law making should always be in favour of protecting the rights and procedures of judicial remedies for the victimized and aggrieved

8. The trend of making laws in a way that is arbitrary, non-transparent and undemocratic, more like imperial dictates needs to be stopped;

9. The Government, as it has been doing with all just and democratic activism in the country, must stop maligning the said protesters ‘Khalistani’, ‘Pakistani agents’, ‘Naxalites’ and thereby creating a situation where they can be threatened with UAPA, the anti-democratic obstacle in the world of resistance; the Government should stop playing  divide and rule strategy within the movement.

10. The Government’s policy documents for reorganising the agro sector and distribution regime following the Shanta Kumar High Level Committee report for agriculture and food security should be made public thereby opening up a sustained national dialogue on these crucial issues; food security Act needs to strengthened and not weakened as has been proposed in these intra- Government recommendations.

11. The trend of suddenly springing of the Farmer’s Laws constituting an irresponsible surgical strike in favour of the corporate against fundamental rights of the producers, consumers, food security regime should be stopped here and now; the Government should not make mockery of our constitution and democracy.

1.         Dimple Oberoi Vahali – email id
2.         Jogin Sengupta – email id
3.         Honey Oberoi Vahali – email id
4.         Diamond Oberoi Vahali – email id
5.         Richa Minocha – email id

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Jan 16, 2021

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