On 30 November 2018, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, then the union minister of food processing, was set to inaugurate a food park owned by a Delhi-based company Pristine Logistics & Infraprojects Private Limited in Ekania village, in Bihar’s Khagaria district. After a brief inspection of the food park—then just two sheds and a vestigial wall—she left in a huff, refusing to inaugurate a project that was far from complete. “Nobody will be allowed to cheat farmers and youths,” the Hindustan Times quoted her as saying. “Neither Prime Minister Narendra Modi nor any of his ministers will inaugurate any incomplete project.” Three years earlier, at a foundation laying ceremony in Ekania, Badal told the media that the park would be completed in two years. What has come up in the village instead, is likely one of the first examples of corporate commercial farming that activists fear will become a national reality as a result of the farm laws.
The failed inauguration of the Pristine food park is the culmination of a litany of misinformation and illegalities that lost the people of Ekania their land, livelihood and employment. The food park currently sits on land that was acquired by Bihar Industrial Area Development Authority in 1987. Many of the farmers who lost their land have not been fully compensated yet. Farmers also told me that the state government reduced the amount of compensation they should have gotten by misrepresenting the land as infertile and of low value. Along with a monetary compensation, farmers were promised jobs in a growth centre that would be built there.
However, no growth centre was built there until 2011. That year, BIADA transferred the land to Pristine, who were tasked with building a food park on the land. According to several locals I spoke to, the park was supposed to employ people whose land had been acquired to construct it, as well as acquire food grain from the surrounding region.
But according to former employees of Pristine, the company reneged on these commitments. A former employee who was involved in organising the application process told me that Pristine burned a majority of the job-application forms by farmers whose land had been acquired. Several former employees, including him, said that the company used employees to threaten farmers who were still opposing the acquisition, and fired employees who were unwilling to file false cases against protesting farmers. Farmers in the surrounding villages also told me that the food park was not acquiring any food grain from them and was instead commercially farming in their own premises. It is unclear if this legal according to contracts signed by Pristine.
The Ekania case serves as a warning of what could likely be the future of Indian agriculture. Two of the three recently passed farm laws allow for corporations to both grow crops as well as hoard them, except under extraordinary circumstances. In Ekania not only were farmers pushed to give up land to the government, but failed to get adequate compensation for 34 years. The land was also passed on to a private company without the consent of local farmers or respecting their demands that the industry hire locals. The parks growing and hoarding of food crops also undermines farmers from the surrounding region, who cannot sell during the same period, or at competitive prices.