Revealed: The Sinister Corporate Agenda Behind the Modi Govt’s Controversial Farm Laws

Revealed: The Sinister Corporate Agenda Behind the Modi Govt’s Controversial Farm Laws

The brain behind now-repealed farm laws is one NRI software engineer, whose only credentials for advising government on agriculture is that he is linked to ‘the head of the BJP’s overseas friend’s unit’. The task force he headed recommended to the government that India should corporatise agriculture, reveals The Reporters’ Collective.

The cat is out of the bag. Thanks to the recent report by Shreegirish Jalihal of The Reporters’ Collective – the three farm laws were the system of corporate, by corporates, for the corporates. Jalihal’s investigative report shows how an unsuspecting NRI businessman in the software industry lobbied with the government and NITI Aayog from 2017 steering Indian agriculture towards agribusiness. But to whose benefit? A task force was formed on his policy note and big agricultural houses like the Adani Group, Big Basket, Mahindra Group, ITC, Patanjali, etc all were given a seat on the task force. As no farmers were on the committee, it appears the conclusions were already decided even before the first meeting happened: India needs to corporatise its agriculture now.

So, did the Modi government actively pursue this aim? It’s time for a little recap.

Our story begins with the Dal scam of 2015 when the Modi government was barely a year old. Arhar dal prices touched over Rs 200 per kg. The government swung into action, after public backlash, by raiding hoarders and illegal stocks by invoking the Essential Commodities Act.

In the aftermath of the raids in 2015, The Wire reported on an income tax department’s investigation report that clearly showed how international and Indian companies, including Adani Group, Glencore, Edelweiss, Jindal Group, etc., were direct beneficiaries of the price rise, and how a “cartel” was created to push dal prices up.

Once bitten, twice shy? It doesn’t really apply to the Modi government. Instead of punishing the culprit corporations, and bolstering the Essential Commodities Act and other provisions that would curtail hyper-food inflation, the government gave Niti Aayog the mandate to privatise Indian agriculture. The idea was packaged and presented to the public with a euphemistic phrase called ‘Doubling Farmers Incomes’. This is clear from a paper titled Doubling Farmers’ Incomes: Strategies and Prospects by Ramesh Chand, which was published by the Niti Aayog in 2017. It must be noted that Chand was a key person on agriculture at Niti Aayog.

The particular paper calls for “linking processors with producers (farmers) through contract farming or market liberalisation”, which it says “has vast scope to raise output and farm incomes”. Under a section titled ‘Promoting Value Chains’, the paper says, “If market reforms are implemented seriously, it will pave the way for the entry of private sector in agriculture, including in the value chains in a big way.” Such “shift”, it notes, will allow cultivators to take up non-farm jobs. Therefore, “market reforms are required to enable farmers to get 17% higher prices”, the report notes. The report is littered with such corporate pearls.

The report created an uproar among farmers. But the government hardly cared about it and set up an inter-ministerial committee under Ashok Dalwai for doubling farmers’ incomes and perhaps forgot about it. Classic Yes, Minister tactic. This committee submitted a redundant 3,000-page and 14-volume report filled with government solutions but also suggested keeping the MSP regime along with market reforms. The Modi government or NITI Aayog didn’t pay any heed to the positive suggestions and stuck to only the corporatisation and agri-dollar agenda.

Meanwhile, the Niti Aayog kept to its mandate, by forming the task force mentioned above, in 2017. Sharad Marathe, an NRI, was made a key member of this task force, even though he is not an expert on agriculture. Marathe owns a software firm, but is “friends with the head of the BJP’s overseas friend’s unit”. The task force was formed at lightning speed within three months by the NITI Aayog and most members were recommended by Marathe himself. Any person with any experience with governmental work knows committees and task forces are not formed in three months without political will behind them. If they did, India would have been a different country by now.

In the first meeting, Marathe clearly stated the purpose of the task force, “The time is right to move from agriculture to agribusiness.” Both bureaucrats and Union ministers parroted Marathe’s line at that time. The then chief executive officer of Niti Aayog, Amitabh Kant, came out with a report in 2018, saying the minimum support price (MSP) should be abolished. He said the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP), part of the agriculture department, which decides on MSP, should be done away with. Finance Minister Nirmala Sithraman in November 2019, before her government was to enact the three contentious farm laws, told the state governments to dismantle Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs). Months later, the government went ahead and enacted farm laws, negating the suggestion of the inter-ministerial committee on the MSP issue.

Now, it so happened that Yogendra Yadav met Marathe accidentally during his visit to meet Rajiv Kumar, who was the then vice-chairman of Niti Aayog. Yadav in a recent statement to the media said, “We had a suspicion that the Adani was involved in the farm laws, as during the lockdown Adani had bought silos (grain). So, it was clear he knew about them and somewhere had a connection to them (farm laws), but we had no proof. We had no idea that Niti Aayog had a secret committee. Sharad Marathe was in the meeting and corporate can do this, and corporate solutions (sic). After my meeting with Rajiv Kumar, Marathe took me to another room and we sat for 30 mins. During this time, I understood that this man knew nothing of Indian agriculture and has no relationship with any real solutions. So, I said my farewell and left.”

Corporate Annadatas

When Indian farmers issued calls to boycott Ambani, Adani, and other corporates, the government was quick to dismiss them, but with new findings. It seems that the Ambani and Adani were only the tip of the iceberg. But let’s examine what the report says.

Beginning in alphabetical order, the Adani Group. Since the Dal scam of 2015, Adani Group has had a good taste of agri-commodity profits. They have even tied up with one of the biggest palm oil companies Wilmar, by launching a Adani-Wilmar edible oil conglomerate to control much of India’s edible oil industry. It was the Adani Group which began lobbying with the government to dismantle the Essential Commodities Act. Their representative told the task force aimed at doubling incomes by 2022, “The Essential Commodities Act is proving to be a deterrence for industries/entrepreneurs.”

But that is not all the Adani Group proposed the creation of a special economic zone (SEZ) on its land to double farmers’ incomes, but wanted Indian taxpayers to provide 60% of the project costs. How this will directly impact farmers’ welfare is still to be known. But their proposal did say that they may propose a model for rapeseed. Keep in mind India grows mustard and not rapeseed.

Ashok Dalwai’s committee coincidentally also demanded that stocking limits should be relaxed. Imagine today, when tomato prices are at 200, and onion prices are also rising fast too, we would have had no stocking limits for corporations. How much more would Indians have to suffer?

Also, keep in mind Adani Group is a major player in food exports and imports, as well as operating ports and transportation facilities in the country. Adani, as Yogendra Yadav said, has also been buying grain silos and also operation food silos for the Food Corporation of India since 2005. They clearly have a market advantage.

Other notable corporate solutions were given by DeHaat, an agriculture company, which advocated for “waiver of licensing requirements and credit support”. On the other Amalgam demanded “capital investments via subsidies”, among others.

Mahindra & Mahindra, a larger industry player in the agri-tractors segment, termed its tractor rental service as “farming as a service model”.  The government favourite Patanjali Ayurved’s representative was beating around the contract farming bush and is quoted saying the company will provide high-yielding varieties of seeds with a buy-back guarantee. Now, will they buy on MSP or below, that was left unsaid. Some of the other suggestions that came were naturally benefiting their employers or industry. Any company called to secret committee meetings with industry members only would naturally mean they tend to talk of profits and market advantage.

So, the onus of moderation and public welfare lies on the Niti Aayog committee, for they failed to watch out for the farmers. And, as a result, no farmers or farmers’ organisation were on the committee, yet a software company owner had access and was duly incharge. How was this possible? The real question also to ask is who was Marathe and whose bidding was he doing? For every Good Samaritan with no credentials doesn’t get nominated to task forces on agriculture every day. Maybe he was brought in to toe the official line, to aid the corporatisation of agriculture intended by the government. But who allowed this to happen? Was this Modi or somebody else?

I spoke to farmers’ leader Rakesh Tikait to get his thoughts on the matter. “The report has exposed what we have been saying all along. The farm laws were for corporates, and not for farmers. Keep in mind that farmers are ready even now for another movement. This is a fight for our livelihoods and we are ready to stand again against the company-raj.”

Chickens do come home to roost, and this new report has not only exposed privatisation agenda but also its potential beneficiaries. It also revealed to the nation, the Modi government’s cloak-and-dagger modus operandi is only for one purpose: to put corporates before people.

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