The 2020–2021 Indian farmers’ protest is an ongoing protest against the three farm acts which were passed by the Parliament of India in September 2020.
Farmer unions and their representatives have demanded that the laws be repealed and will not accept anything short of it. Farm leaders have rejected a Supreme Court of India stay order on the farm laws as well as the involvement of a Supreme Court appointed committee. Nine rounds of talks have taken place between the central government and farmers represented by the farm unions between 14 October 2020 and 15 January 2021; all were inconclusive.
The acts, often called the Farm Bills, have been described as “anti-farmer laws” by many farmer unions, and politicians from the opposition also say it would leave farmers at the “mercy of corporates”. The farmers have also requested for the creation of an MSP bill, to ensure that corporates can not control prices. The government, however, maintains that they will make it effortless for farmers to sell their produce directly to big buyers, and stated that the protests are based on misinformation.
Indian farmers’ protest – March to Delhi
Soon after the acts were introduced, unions began holding local protests, mostly in Punjab. After two months of protests, farmer unions—notably from Punjab and Haryana—began a movement named Dilhi Chalo (transl. Let’s go to Delhi), in which tens of thousands of farming union members marched towards the nation’s capital. The Indian government ordered the police and law enforcement of various states to attack the farmer unions using water cannons, batons, and tear gas to prevent the farmer unions from entering into Haryana first and then Delhi. On 26 November a nationwide general strike that trade unions claim involved approximately 250 million people took place in support of the farmer unions. On 30 November, it was estimated that between 200,000 and 300,000 farmers were converging at various border points on the way to Delhi.
A section of farmer unions have been protesting, whereas the Indian Government claims some unions have come out in support of the farm laws. Transport unions representing over 14 million trucker drivers have come out in support of the farmer unions, threatening to halt movement of supplies in certain states. After the government did not accept the farmer unions’ demands during talks on 4 December, the farmer unions planned to escalate the action to another India-wide strike on 8 December 2020. The government offered some amendments in laws, but unions are asking to repeal the laws. From 12 December, farmer unions took over highway toll plazas in Haryana and allowed free movement of vehicles.
By mid December, the Supreme Court of India had received a batch of petitions related to removing blockades created by protesters around Delhi. The court also asked the government to put the laws on hold, which they refused. On 4 January 2021 the court registered the first plea filed in favour of the protesting farmers. Farmers have said they will not listen to the courts if told to back off. Their leaders have also said that staying the farm laws is not a solution.
On 30 December, the Indian Government agreed to two of the farmers’ demands; excluding farmers from new pollution laws and dropping amendments to the new Electricity Ordinance.
On 26 January, tens of thousands of the farmers protesting agricultural reforms held a Farmer’s parade with a large convoy of tractors and drove into Delhi. The protesters deviated from the pre sanctioned routes permitted by the Delhi Police. The tractor rally turned into a violent protest as the protesting farmers drove through the barricades and clashed with the police. Later protesters reached Red Fort and installed their farmer union and religious flags on the mast on the rampart of the Red Fort.
Farmer unions’ demands
The farmer unions believe that the laws will open the sale and marketing of agricultural products outside the notified Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis for farmers. Further, the laws will allow inter-state trade and encourage hike electronic trading of agricultural produce. The new laws prevent the state governments from collecting a market fee, cess, or levy for trade outside the APMC markets; this has led the farmers to believe the laws will “gradually end the mandi system” and “leave farmers at the mercy of corporates”. Further, the farmers believe that the laws will end their existing relationship with artisans (commission agents who act as middlemen by providing financial loans, ensuring timely procurement, and promising adequate prices for their crop).
Additionally, protesting farmers believe dismantling the APMC mandis will encourage abolishing the purchase of their crops at the minimum support price. They are therefore demanding the minimum support prices to be guaranteed by the government.
As of 1 February 2021, the farmers’ demands include:
- Convene a special Parliament session to repeal the farm laws
- Make minimum support price(MSP) and state procurement of crops a legal right
- Assurances that conventional procurement system will remain
- Implement Swaminathan Panel Report and peg MSP at least 50% more than weighted average cost of production
- Cut diesel prices for agricultural use by 50%
- Repeal of Commission on Air Quality Management in NCR and the adjoining Ordinance 2020 and removal of punishment and fine for stubble burning
- Release of farmers arrested for burning paddy stubble in Punjab
- Abolishing the Electricity Ordinance 2020
- Centre should not interfere in state subjects, decentralization in practice
- Withdrawal of all cases against and release of farmer leaders