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OP-ED: Putting farmers first

  • Published at 10:59 pm October 5th, 2020
Women shak vegetable green crop land agriculture farmer
Women shak vegetable green crop land agriculture farmer Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

A comparison between India and Bangladesh’s agricultural policies

India and Bangladesh are both agrarian countries; approximately 60% of their working populations are involved in agricultural activities. Over 87% of the rural people in Bangladesh and 70% of the rural people in India derive at least some income majorly from agriculture.

Recent agricultural bills in India

Recently, three reformative agricultural bills were presented in the Lok Sabha (lower house) by the government of India. 

Even though agriculture comes under the state list, meaning that the state has almost autonomy over making bills related to the agricultural sector, the bills proposed by GOI bypass the state government’s powers. 

The bills are Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill 2020, and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020.

The bills were passed in Lok Sabha by an overwhelming majority. They were then presented in Rajya Sabha (upper house) and were passed yet again, but this time with a voice vote. 

Voice vote is a process in which the members of the house express their decision by shouting. Even though it is legal, it goes against the spirit of the Indian constitution. 

In this process, the speaker of the house can decide based on the loudness of the shouting whether the majority is in favour of the bill or not. This puts the spirit of democracy on shaky grounds.

Since almost 60% of the Indian population’s livelihoods depend on agriculture, the government should be more thoughtful while making any laws regarding the agricultural sector as it will impact millions of lives. 

Farmers of Punjab and Haryana are furious about the bills because they believe that, once it becomes an act, the corporate powers will exploit them because there won’t be any practical checks and balances to ensure their safety. 

The government has said that the farmers have been misled, and hence, the government of India should at least try to address all the questions and concerns of the farmers so that there’s no confusion or chaos.

Agricultural reforms in Bangladesh

The agricultural sector of Bangladesh is thriving. Even though Bangladesh is a much smaller country compared to India, it is performing much better than India at present, comfortably ahead of India in agricultural growth.

Due to key reforms in the agricultural sector, Bangladesh has been able to reduce poverty significantly. Those reforms have also liberalized the private trading in grain markets (both domestically and internationally), imports of inputs, and major reductions to longstanding programs for public distribution of grains.

The Bangladesh Agricultural Produce Markets Regulation Act, 1964 provides for the management, control, as well as regulation of marketing of agricultural produce in designated markets. This act falls under the functions of the Department of Agricultural Marketing. 

This gave enormous power to the government but it also placed a significant amount of power in the hands of the local authorities. This system of checks and balances has made sure that the locals were comfortable with the rules/regulations. 

After easing the laws of import and export of materials and products, Bangladesh also became one of the top producers of clothing. 

Premium brands such as Zara have their clothes manufactured in bulk quantities in Bangladesh. There’s a stark difference between the image that the country had decades before and the image that the country has now.

International players don’t usually want to set up their businesses in India due to the draconian laws implemented by the Indian government whereas they are happy to do it in Bangladesh, where they are able to grow. 

It seems that the governments in both countries don’t like any dissent, be it Bangladesh’s officials asking editors to stop publishing reports that allegedly “tarnish the image of Bangladesh” or the Indian government putting activists who raised their voices against CAA and NRC laws behind bars.

One of the reasons why all Indian farmers are not protesting against the bills is because they fear being jailed. 

The ones who have dared to raise their voice have been labelled as “middle-men” who are worried about their profits.

Aashish K Shrivastava is a journalism student at Jindal School of Journalism and Communication, O P Jindal Global University. Mozammil Ahmad is an independent researcher and a student of law at the University of Delhi.

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