Farmers are a powerful political force in India, and there have been other examples of mass protests by farmers in recent Indian history. However, protests on the scale of the current protests have not been seen in recent decades, nor have they lasted as long.

Former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh during an interview with Wall Street Journal Editorial Board on, September 22, 2004, said:

We need a second green revolution, making use of modern advances […] For that we need to revitalize India’s research agricultural system, India’s extension system, India’s credit system. The more We commercialize our agriculture, the more our farmers need access to commercial inputs and that was a modernization of our agriculture credit system. […] There are other rigidities because of the whole marketing regimes set up in the 1930s which prevent our farmers from selling their produce where they get the highest rate of return. It is our intention to remove all those handicaps which come in the way of India realizing its vast potential as one large common market.

Taking a leaf of this interview, on 8 February 2021, in the Rajya Sabha, Prime Minister Modi said, “Manmohan Singh talked about it but Modi is having to do it now. Prime Minister Modi has referred to the second agricultural revolution in 2015, 2016, and 2017, from different platforms.

Three Agricultural Laws

The central Government of India promulgated three ordinances in the first week of June 2020, which dealt with agricultural produce, their sale, hoarding, agricultural marketing and contract farming reforms among other things. 

These ordinances were introduced as bills and passed by the Lok Sabha on 15 and 18 September 2020.

On 20 and 22 September, the three bills were passed by the Rajya Sabha, where the government via a voice vote.

The President of India gave his assent by signing the bills on 28 September, thus converting them into acts. 

These acts areas are:

  1. Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act: expands the scope of trade areas of farmers produce from select areas to “any place of production, collection, and aggregation.” Allows electronic trading and e-commerce of scheduled farmers’ produce. Prohibits state governments from levying any market fee, cess or levy on farmers, traders, and electronic trading platforms for a trade of farmers’ produce conducted in an ‘outside trade area’.
  2. Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act: creates a framework for contract farming through an agreement between a farmer and a buyer before the production or rearing of any farm produces. It provides for a three-level dispute settlement mechanism: the conciliation board, Sub-Divisional Magistrate, and Appellate Authority.’
  3. Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act: allows for the center to regulate certain food items in the course of extraordinary situations like war or famine. Requires that imposition of any stock limit on agricultural produce be based on price rise.

 

Opposition Of the Three Bills by Farmer Unions:

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. 
  • 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 lead to the deterioration and ultimately end the mandi system” thus “leaving farmers at the mercy of corporates”. 
  • Further, the farmers believe that the laws will end their existing relationship with agricultural small-scale businessmen (commission agents who act as middlemen by providing financial loans, ensuring timely procurement, and promising adequate prices for their crop).

Protests And Incidents:

In Punjab, small-scale protests had started in August 2020 when the Farm Bills were made public. It was only after the passage of the acts that more farmers and farm unions across India joined the protests against the reforms. 

On 25 September 2020 farm unions all over India called for a Bharat Bandh to protest against these farm laws. The most widespread protests took place in Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh but demonstrations were also reported in Uttar Pradesh, Karnatak, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Kerala and other states.

Railway services remained suspended in Punjab for more than two months due to the protests, starting from October. Following this, farmers from different states then marched to Delhi to protest against the laws. Farmers also criticized the national media for misrepresenting the protest.

From 12 December, farmer unions took over highway toll plazas in Haryana and allowed free movement of vehicles. In certain parts of India, bullock-cart rallies in support of farmer’s protest have also been organized by marginal farmers. Transport bodies such as the All-India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC), representing about 9.5 million truckers and 5 million bus and taxi drivers also sympathised the movement. 

On 24 September 2020, farmers started a “Rail roko campaign”, following which train services to and from Punjab were affected. 

After failing to get the support of their respective state governments, the farmers decided to pressure the Central Government by marching to Delhi. 

On 25 November 2020, protesters started the “Dilli Chalo” campaign which was met by police at the borders of the city. The police employed the use of tear gas and water cannons, dug up roads, and used layers of barricades and sand barriers to stop the protesters.

Blocking Of Borders and Roads:

A number of borders, including the Kundli Border, Dhansa border, Jharoda Kalan border, Tikri border, Singhu border, Kalindi Kunj border, Chilla border, Bahadurgarh border and Faridabad border, were blocked by protesters during the protests.

On 29 November, the protesters announced that they would block five further points of entry into Delhi, namely Ghaziabad-Hapur, Rohtak, Sonipat, Jaipur and Mathura. This resulted in minor clashes involving stone pelting and lathi charges with the police

Republic Day Kisan Parade:

On 26 January, tens of thousands of the farmers protesting agricultural reforms held a parade with a large convoy of tractors and drove into Delhi. The farmers drove in long lines of tractors, riding horses or marching on foot. The parade started from Singhu Border, Tikri Border and Ghazipur in Delhi on the routes approved by the Police. The farmers were barred from entering the central part of the city where the official Republic Day parade was taking place. 

Twelve major opposition parties had extended their support to the call given by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha to observe countrywide protest on May 26, marking six months of the farmers protest at Delhi borders against the Centre’s farm laws.

 

A Tragic Event

As the rally progressed, it deviated and marched towards other routes. The protestors marched towards ITO metro station and the city centre, and broke through the barricades. The Delhi Police used tear gas and baton charged the protesting farmers leading to clashes. Several metro stations were closed and mobile internet was suspended by police.

The protestors entered the Red Fort of Delhi, and one of the farmers was seen climbing a flagpole in front of the fort and hoisting the religious flag Nishan Sahib on the flagpole. The clash between police and farmers also caused damage to facilities inside the fort. policemen and thousands of farmers were reported injured, 30 police vehicles were damaged and internet services were suspended for hours in several parts of Delhi and the NCR region. The police took hours in vacating the fort premises after continuous announcements and use of force.

Further Precautionary Measures Taken by Police:

After the 26 January tractor march, the police constructed cement barricades, dug trenches and cemented nails at all three borders where farmers continue to protest. The barricading and police have restricted movement of locals, farmers, as well as journalists to the protest sites. At the Ghazipur border, farmer leaders alleged that water and electricity supply was cut off.

As of 28 January, the Delhi Police stated that it has filed various criminal cases on the incidents of violence and arrested several people. More than 300 police personnel were injured in the violence by protesters who used batons and sharp weapons. The violence and hoisting of a religious flag on the ramparts of the Red Fort made the Bharatiya Kisan Union (Bhanu) and All India Kisan Sangharsh Co-ordination Committee decide to quit the farmers’ protest. Sharad Pawar, the leader of the Nationalist Congress Party, and Captain Amarinder Singh, the Chief Minister of Punjab, condemned the violence.

Repeal Of the Three Agricultural Acts:

In a televised address on 19 November 2021, Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, said his government would be repealing the three acts in the upcoming winter parliamentary session in December. In his statement he lamented his government’s inability to convince farmers of the law’s advantages, saying: “but despite several attempts to explain the benefits to the farmers, we have failed. On the occasion of Guru Parab, the government has decided to repeal the three farm laws.”

Withdrawal Of Agitation by Farmer Unions:

The national spokesperson of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, Rakesh Tikait, stated the protests would only cease once the laws were repealed.

On 29 November, both Houses of the Indian Parliament passed the Farm Laws Repeal Bill, 2021 by voice vote. While there were no objections to the bill, the Opposition objected to passing the bill without debate. The repeal bill was signed by the President of India two days later.

The government on Wednesday, December,08, 2021, agreed in principles to all the suggestions of the protesting farmer unions, including their demand of “unconditional” withdrawal of cases registered against farmers and their supporters, and sent a revised draft proposal that now could set the stage for an announcement of winding up protest sites along Delhi Boarders possibly on Thursday, December, 09, 2021.

The Samyukt Kishan Morcha (SKM)—a joint plat-form of farmer unions unanimously agreed on the government’s fresh proposal which reached them as an “unsigned” note, and requested the center to send a “formal communication signed on the government’s letterhead” so that it could take a call on lifting the Morchas (protest sites) on Thursday.

On the mandate of proposed panel on minimum support price (MSP) on which the unions sought clarifications, the government said the mandate of the committee, having representations from the SKM, other farmer organisations, states and the Centre, would be how to ensure MSP to all farmers.

Noting its earlier assurance on MSP, the government also clarified that quantum of the procurement at support price would not be reduced in any state wherever it’s currently being done.

And finally, The Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella body of 40 farm unions, on Thursday, December 9, 2021 18:52 IST, decided to suspend the movement against the farm laws and announced that farmers will go back home on December 11 from the protest sites on Delhi’s borders.

 

A farmer carries a fan as protests were called off, after the government agreed to their demands, including assurances to consider guaranteed prices for all produce, at the Singhu border protest site near the Delhi-Haryana border (Photo: Reuters)