Will offer support to farm Bills only if Centre promises MSP: Raju Shetti

Burning issue: SSS leader Raju Shetti (right) burns copies of the farm Bills in Kolhapur on Friday.  

Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) chief Raju Shetti on Friday reiterated his firm opposition to the Centre’s farm Bills and said destroying the system of agricultural produce market committees (APMC) and replacing it with contract farming did not guarantee that farmers would not be exploited.

Speaking in Kolhapur, Mr. Shetti said he is willing to support the Bills only if Prime Minister Modi announces a minimum support price (MSP) for farmers to cushion them from natural calamities and volatile market changes. .

“The Centre must understand that our protest is not merely a political agitation. We are upset as there is a sinister intent behind passing these three Bills, which the Modi government could do so only on the strength of a brute majority,” said Mr. Shetti, who burnt copies of the Bills while his party workers staged protests across Maharashtra.

Mr. Shetti said his mentor, the late farmer leader Sharad Joshi, had spoken in support of an open economy in agriculture. “Sharad Joshi had said market committees had become the abattoirs of these farmers. I, too, support this view. But while there is no doubt that today’s market committees are exploiting farmers, destroying one system and bringing in another does not mean that farmers will not be exploited.”

He said around 30% of the total foodgrains produced in the country are procured by the National Agricultural Cooperative Marketing Federation of India Ltd. (NAFED) and the Food Corporation of India (FCI) through APMCs. He said, “The Centre purchases agricultural commodities with a minimum guarantee. That is their responsibility. It acts as a base for farmers.” He added that the Modi government had formed the Shanta Kumar Committee to study this minimum guarantee that was the right of the farmer.

However, the Shanta Kumar Committee had recommended the Centre to stop this guarantee and cease supply of cheap foodgrains through the public distribution system (PDS). “It is in line with these recommendations that the Bills have been passed in Parliament. One cannot rule out that the Centre, in the near future, will remove the organs for food procurement and leave the poor to fend for themselves,” said Mr. Shetti.

Remarking that the market operated on the cold principle of supply and demand, not on emotion, Mr. Shetti said farmers are worried about what would happen to their MSP once the corporates took over. He said, “Farmers in Maharashtra have not been hit hard yet. So, there is relative peace here. But in Bihar, farmers are selling maize at ₹1,100 per quintal even though the guaranteed price is ₹1,850 per quintal. Who is responsible for this?” Mr. Shetti said there was widespread anxiety that the FCI and NAFED would be sold to corporates.

“The worrying part is that the Modi government has taken out State-owned companies for sale, citing losses. Air India is a good example of this. FCI and NAFED will be in the line for sale sooner or later. If that happens, then an Adani or an Ambani will be ready to buy it. This will spell the death knell of the average farmer who will entirely be at the mercy of the corporates,” Mr. Shetti said.

Cautioning the Centre, he said as there would be no restrictions to bind corporates, the companies were free to reject ‘bad’ agricultural products or even brand products as ‘bad’, thereby buying them at a lower price from farmers. “With the passage of these Bills, companies will now compete to buy agricultural produce from farmers. Private companies are not bound to guarantee good prices to farmers. History has shown that when prices are good, contracts are deliberately broken, citing quality, grading reasons,” said Mr. Shetti.

Given that 80% farmers in India are smallholders, Mr. Shetti said they were extremely vulnerable to corporate exploitation. “No expert is needed to predict the outcome if a small farmer, thus cheated, decides to sue a company with a turnover of thousands of crores in the High Court,” he said.

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Printable version | Oct 25, 2020 2:49:57 AM |

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