On 14 September, while farmer organisations protested in Punjab and Haryana, the centre introduced three bills in parliament related to the farm sector. These bills replaced three ordinances that were promulgated in June—The Farmers’ Produce Trade And Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020; The Farmers (Empowerment And Protection) Agreement On Price Assurance And Farm Services Ordinance, 2020; and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020. Ordinances are temporary laws than can be issued by the president when parliament is not in session. They must be approved by the parliament within six weeks of it reassembling. After the Lok Sabha reconvened for the monsoon session, the first two bills passed on 17 September, and the third passed on 15 September.
Farmers across Punjab have been protesting the ordinances for more than three months now. Their protests have intensified since the parliament reconvened—on 14 September, farmers affiliated to nearly a dozen unions protested and blocked traffic along highways in Punjab. After the bills passed, the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee, a farmers’ organisation in Punjab, announced a “Rail Roko”—or stop the trains—agitation from 24 to 26 September. Various other farmer groups in the state have called for a bandh on 25 September in protest against the farm bills.
The ordinances, replaced by bills of the same names, introduce changes in the way that agricultural produce is sold. At present, farmers sell their produce in government-regulated mandis, or market yards, which operate under the Agriculture Produce Market Committee, or APMC, Act. Government-procurement agencies are mandated to buy wheat and paddy at a minimum-support price, or MSP. These agencies pay a market and rural development fee to the state government as well as a fees to commissioning agents who pack and clean the farmers produce. Private traders can also purchase crops at the mandis. There is currently a fixed MSP for atleast 22 crops. The MSP is a price guaranteed by the government to protect farmers from market fluctuations.
The first bill, The Farmers’ Produce Trade And Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Bill, allows farm produce to be bought and sold outside the state government-regulated mandis. It allows them to sell their produce anywhere within the state and in other states to private traders. However, farmers are opposing the bill on the grounds that it will privatise the current system, drive crop prices down and may do away with the MSP. The second bill, The Farmers (Empowerment And Protection) Agreement On Price Assurance And Farm Services Bill, 2020, allows big businesses to cultivate land on contract. The third bill, The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, removes existing restrictions on stocking food produce. It allows the central government to regulate the supply of certain food items only under extraordinary circumstances, such as war, famine, extraordinary price rise, or a natural calamity.
On 28 August, the Punjab legislative assembly passed a resolution, moved by the chief minister Amarinder Singh, rejecting the three ordinances and urging the central government to withdraw them. The resolution was sent to both houses of parliament to convey Punjab’s staunch opposition. Describing the ordinances as “anti-farmer,” Singh also appealed to other predominantly agriculture-based states to step forward and oppose the ordinances by rising above party lines. He said that the ordinances would spell ruin for 70 percent of Punjab’s farmers who cultivate less than five acres of land.