Critical Evaluation of Agricultural Bills, 2020: How can the reforms impact the country’s food security and food sovereignty?

LJCS: Legal Journal for Contemporary Society

Introduction

The problem of food security in India was from colonial times due to inadequate production, procurement, distribution, and export-import policies. Through the development of the public distribution system (PDS), which was eventually targeted to meet each citizen’s food requirements. The world food summit (WFS) defines Food security as a situation where everyone can consume their dietary needs according to their preferences sufficiently at every time.[1]

Food security, however, is associated with the plethora of different factors that prevails in a society, such as, the economic condition of people living at a place or the social circumstances and the environment of a place. The mismanagement by policies in food security has far-reaching impacts, not only food prices rise at that time which could ultimately lead to hunger and famine; rather it could force the government to increase their expenditure in health care and medicine. The far-reaching impacts of food insecurity do not stop here; it affects the education system due to improper food consumption.[2]

In the present time, where COVID-19 is an arduous task for the government to control, the marginal communities have faced an excess of problems regarding the food supply, thereby leading to health emergencies. COVID-19 was doing much harm to destroy the food sovereignty, the government of India introduced and brings into force, the three bills that were commonly referred to as the “Farm Bills”. These bills were introduced to remove the 70 years long regulations which existed in the system to protect the small farmers who are surviving their livelihood from working on farms. The new farm bill has the potential to dismantle the tradition old food sovereignty of India.[3] Food sovereignty is the right of the people who consume and produce the food to decide their food production and distribution system at a place.[4] In this paper, we will critique the impacts of the reforms vis-à-vis the food security and the food sovereignty of India.


Why do we need Food Security? Moreover, Why is Food Sovereignty so Important?

Food, being the paramount need of human, can be found in the various legislations, including international law.[5] “The fundamental rights to freedom from hunger and malnutrition” is defined in Article 11 of International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.[6] The unavailability of food to the citizens causes malnutrition, and sometimes the scarcity of food reaches to such an extent where the famine occurs. India had witnessed quite a few famines when the British were ruling the State; the 1860-61 upper Doab famine was one of the notable famine India has suffered since it killed almost 20 lakhs Indians. The Great South Indian Famine occurred in 1876-78 where around 55 lakhs people have died in the British Ruling places. The last was the Great Bengal famine of 1943-44 were almost 50 lakhs Indian died due to improper policies that led to the stage where the food grains produced in Bengal were given to the British soldiers.[7] Thus, the need for having food security in a nation is very crucial.

Food sovereignty is important because it provides people, the right, to choose their food set to eat and gives people the liberty to choose their selling method and buy the food at their desired place. Often, people with low-income face inequalities to choose their preferences, so food sovereignty provides them with the chance to have their rights. If it does not sustain, the problems of the people will not be addressed. Food sovereignty, especially at the challenging times like COVID-19 when the chain was disrupted, shows how it helps maintain a system where the producers and consumers are treated fairly and humanitarian.


What was the Prior Situation of Food Security in India until the New Reforms?

The crisis had been there in the colonial period when the Crown brought the legislation, such that, the maximum profits from farmer were snatched. The policies regarding the upliftment of the farmers were paid very less consideration. The witness of such exploitation could be seen in the riots of 1875-1879, when the farmers of the Deccan, particularly from Satara, Ahmednagar, and Pune was troubled and revolted against the British Crown for the continuous atrocities like heavy taxes and very fewer prices for the crops they were facing by then.

In 1955 the essential commodities Act, the necessity of bringing the impugned act was only to save the marginalized people from the exploitation by traders from making a profit from food products and leaving them to die of the hunger. The reforms brought in by the union government have reminded us of the time during British people who led the trade and profits always above the rights of the people to consume food.[8]


In 2013, the central government forced the world’s largest food security legislation, National Food Security Act (NFSA), which aimed to provide the food grains at a subsidized price to almost 2/3rd of the total populace the country. The green revolution was when the country started to gather food surplus food security and provide it at the heavily subsidized prices. Moreover, the food security system (Law) of 2013 was passed on the strength of the food surplus.[9]

In 2020, the central government passed the three Acts, namely, “The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020”.[10] The Essential Commodities Act removed the food from essential commodities, thereby allowing the people to store and sell their whims not only the farm products but all the available food items. The bills were passed by both the houses of parliament and the President’s assent was granted. Even though the power to legislate on agriculture stays with the concerned state government, the central government decides the minimum support prices of the food grains. The union government claimed that these bills are brought in so that farmers could access the large private sector companies to increase the system’s viability and peasants’ income. The Farmers (Empowerment and protection) Act allowed the global players to put the farmers into the system of corporate slavery. The Farming Produce Trade and Commerce Act can destroy the system of protection of farmers from the exploitation by traders and corporate.[11]


What could be the Potential Change in India’s Food Security & Food Sovereignty by the New Reforms?

There are three pillars of food security. First, the minimum support price (MSP), Second, the public distribution system (PDS) and Third, the public procurement. The news reforms passed by the union government do not mention the inclusivity of the minimum support price (MSP).

In numerous researches, it is very probable that in the absence of MSP, the new reforms would miss the wellbeing of small farmers and ultimately the small farmers will be forced to sell their crops even below the minimum support price. Since the present system was such that there were Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC), government bodies. The APMCs governed the mandis, which were the medium for farmers and traders to trade at least on the assured floor price. The new reforms that can remove the APMCs since the trading system with private companies would emerge with the new laws; eventually, the APMCs would end. The ending of APMCs would make the prices of grains to be decided outside the markets. This factor could become the impediment for the small farmers to sustain in the markets since the private traders would potentially make them sell the grains at relatively lower prices.[12] This will vanish away the food sovereignty, which stays with the producers and consumers at a specific place.

For bringing such reforms, the central government claimed a restrictive size of the markets for farmers to trade. The government could not provide the farmers with the price security and claims that this liberation of markets would help them achieve price security. However, , the size of the market, whether big or small was not the contention point. Because even after the new reforms, the contracting power between the two parties will be unequal. So, the small farmer’s power to trade would be much less than that of the large traders at any market. Finally, the farmers will not get higher prices, and this imbalance would affect the nation’s food sovereignty. The producer’s power to sell by their desired methods would be lost due to the oligopsony, created by the large corporate companies in the market. The farmers want to sell their crops at least at MSP which the governments decides twice every year because the new reforms would eliminate the MSP, the important pillar of food security would have perished.

The new reforms can negatively affect food security since the farmers would likely be selling/exporting the price when the grains’ price is low and releasing the same grains when the local market price is high. Therefore the states would find it difficult to realize the availability of food in the State at the specific time, as food is no longer the essential commodity that cannot be stored and released at the owner’s whim. The new laws may put the nation’s food security in the hands of only a few capitalists, which would possibly create an oligopsony that could stifle the nation. In the present time of COVID, we have realized that it is not the privatization that could lead to better services, since the private hospitals at every place in the present time did not ensure the proper facilities for the healthcare of COVID-19 patients. Rather it was the existence of mandis where the farmers trade at the fair prices. Since no trader in mandis could take more than 2.5% of the commission, it makes it even more fundamental for farmers’ welfare to be not exploited anywhere else. This decentralized system of mandis controlled by the respective states was the backbone of India’s food security, which now seems to be diluted by the new laws.[13]


LJCS: Legal Journal for Contemporary Society


How the Impact in PDS System by the New Reforms can brunt the Food Security?

The food corporation of India (FCI) storing the grains purchased by the government at MSP for providing to the PDS system will now delve into diluting as there is no guarantee of MSP that the government would provide farmers will sell their crops outside the market. Therefore the quantity for FCI to buy and store would be left less. In the present time of COVID-19, where the PDS system helped provide the food stored by FCI, the new reforms make it even more vulnerable for food security since the food stored by FCI will now be less. Hence, it will lead to the inefficient working of the PDS system when there is an inadequate quantity of food stored by FCI for distribution.

The trade will now go in the imperfect markets (which need to be corrected a lot before the actual working) rather than the APMCs which were there right now. As the trade will go in the imperfect market, the food grains to be purchased by FCI will eventually be less as there will be no profound data of the amount of food and its price. The central government, rather than making the APMCs more efficient and convenient, just skipped the system to a more complex one where the small farmer would be more exploited as they lack the power of contracting against the large private players. Thereby the whole system of discovering the price of grains would be lost. Moreover, when the price could not be discovered, even FCI will face difficulties finding the fair price without the MSP. For instance, we can know the price of grain by certainly looking at the website “Agmarknet”, but when the trade happens in an open imperfect market, it will not be possible to know the market price.

The author thinks the new reforms can potentially change the PDS system indirectly. As the open market trade will impact the purchasing capacity of FCI at MSP (the new reforms will end MSP) and therefore deliver the food for PDS will also be impacted. As PDS has become a right to the people by the National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, the central government must have aimed to make MSP a right instead of removing it. The nation’s Food Security is put at stake by the new reforms.


What could be the Implications of Dilution of Food Security & Food Sovereignty of India?

The eradication or the weakening of the food security of the nation could have inverse impacts on the nation as we have observed that the food security system in the period of COVID-19 helped our nation not reach a stage where the country has to purchase or borrow the food from outside the country. The National Food Security Act (NFSA), 2013, has made the provisions of improving the nation’s food security while the current reforms of 2020 are contrary to prevailing food security and food sovereignty. The direct implications of weakening food security and food sovereignty could be:

· Famines are the direct consequences of the situation where the country fails to have food security for its citizen at certain times.

· There will be no control of the government over food prices.

· Slow down the growth of already crushed the agriculture sector.

· Less trading opportunities in the market.

· The agriculture sector contributes our nation’s 18% GDP, and therefore weakening food sovereignty could directly impact the nation’s economy.[14]

These were the few reasons the direct impact of the new Agriculture reforms of 2020 could be observed.


Conclusion

The discussion above shows why the new reforms in the agriculture sector can be a menace to the nation’s food security and food sovereignty. We have drawn how the PDS system’s impact and on MSP will hit the food security and sovereignty, and ultimately these two factors will change the consumer’s procurement preferences due to the change in the food grain’s prices. Finally, food sovereignty would be shaken up, and food security will weaken, putting the nation on the back step instead of putting farmers to a better position. Therefore the new agriculture reforms should be repealed for the wellbeing of the farmers and the nation.


- By a law student of WBNUJS 

References

[1] Edward Clay, “paper presented at the FAO Expert Consultation on Trade and Food Security: Conceptualizing the Linkages, Rome, July 11–12, 2002” Available at http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/y4671e/y4671e06.htm#fn21 (Last visited on 23 October 2020).

[2] ‘Feast and Famine’, “Indian Express (by arrangement with The Economist), New Delhi, December 4, 2014, p. 15.

[3] Vandana Shiva, “Food sovereignty of farmers, citizens are given a go-by” Available at https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/panorama/food-sovereignty-of-farmers-citizens-given-a-go-by-903909.html (Last visited on 24 October 2020).

[4] “FOOD SOVEREIGNTY: WHAT IT IS, WHY IT’S IMPORTANT, AND A MODEL” Available at https://sicangucdc.org/blog/f/food-sovereignty-what-it-is-why-it%E2%80%99s-important-and-a-model?gclid=Cj0KCQjwreT8BRDTARIsAJLI0KLcNo2aMfH4Xavfm5OZi3pYbeln_tZLuunH5RbqL4m5tfyEJetFn_8aAmScEALw_wcB (Last visited on 24 October 2020).

[5] UN (1999), The Right to Adequate Food (Art.11).

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Famines in India in the 19th century: A timeline” Available at http://www.environmentandsociety.org/exhibitions/famines-india/timeline/famines-india-timeline (Last visited on 25 October 2020).

[8] Vandana Shiva, “Food sovereignty of farmers, citizens are given a go-by” Available at: https://www.deccanherald.com/opinion/panorama/food-sovereignty-of-farmers-citizens-given-a-go-by-903909.html (Last visited on 26 October 2020).

[9] Priyam Sengupta & Kakali Mukhopadhyay, “Economic and Environmental Impact of National Food Security Act of India” Available at: https://agrifoodecon.springeropen.com/articles/10.1186/s40100-016-0048-7 (Last visited on 26 October 2020).

[10] Arjun Srinivas, “What India’s farm reforms aim to change, in three charts” Available at: https://www.livemint.com/news/india/what-india-s-farm-reforms-aim-to-change-in-three-charts-11602052679387.html (Last visited on 27 October 2020).

[11] Ibid.

[12] “Analysis on Impact of Agriculture Reform Bills on Farmers” Available at: https://www.grainmart.in/news/analysis-on-impact-of-agriculture-reform-bills-on-farmers/ (Last visited on 28 October 2020).

[13] “Intent behind Farmer Bills is to Avoid Accountability for Ensuring Fair Price to Producers” Available at: https://thewire.in/agriculture/interview-intent-behind-farmer-bills-is-to-avoid-accountability-for-ensuring-a-fair-price-to-producers (Last visited on 28 October 2020).

[14] Madhumitha Jaganmohan, “Agriculture in India - statistics & facts” Available at: https://www.statista.com/topics/4868/agricultural-sector-in-india/#:~:text=The%20agriculture%20sector%20is%20one,18%20percent%20to%20India%27s%20GDP (Last visited on 28 October 2020).

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