Farm Laws, Farmer Protests and Agrarian Crisis : Dr Jaya mehta


Dr Jaya Mehta, economist and activist, has been associated with the Joshi-Adhikari Institute of Social Studies, author of many books who coordinated an all India study of the Agrarian Crisis delivered a special lecture on ‘Farm Laws, Farmer Protests and Agrarian Crisis’ on 27 th December 2020.
Abstract of talk :
The reforms in agricultural marketing contained in the three farm laws were first announced by the finance minister on 15th May 2020 as Prime Minister’s relief package for the people. When Covid and lock-down had created crisis in the entire economy, migrant workers were walking hundreds of kilometers to reach home and the majority of households desperately needed state support and protection, the Modi government chose to withdraw state intervention and deregulate market forces in agriculture to leave people in complete disarray. After the controversial monsoon session of parliament, the reforms to deregulate market became laws.

The farmers of Punjab and Haryana started protesting against the farm bills even before they were introduced in the Lok Sabha. They could see that what was recommended by the government as market incentive for farmers was actually a threat to the process of state procurement and guarantee of minimum support price. The farm bills represented a step towards transferring agricultural produce markets entirely in the hands of domestic and multinational agribusiness. From 27th November, the protest against the farm laws has gathered enormous momentum. Not only farmers across the country have joined in, other marginalized sections of rural and urban informal sector have also identified their self- interest as linked to the existing market structure. They do not want it disturbed by the new farm laws. The infrastructure of PDS which offers food security to them, may become redundant if state procurement of grains is undermined.

Such spread out base of the movement not only makes the existing protest robust and resilient, it also offers a hope that the marginalized section will gather strength and confidence to demand their share in the economic and political space which has been appropriated by big capital.

Although agrarian crisis has precipitated since 1990s, its roots can be traced far behind in the land reform period and early industrialization initiative. Seventy years after independence we still have 50% of the workforce (245 million men and women) dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods. But the main resource base namely land is limited and dignified livelihood cannot be provided through direct farm activities. The industrialization and modernization trajectory in the post-independent period has failed to create requisite employment space for surplus labor which remains confined to agriculture. Resolution of agrarian crisis then demands a radical restructuring of land labor relations and alongside a change in production relations and production process outside of agriculture so that distorted employment pattern can be corrected. This requires a robust political movement but also a delineation of alternative development paradigm and production structure. Formation of collective economic base in agriculture and urban informal sector is a necessary step in this direction.

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