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Farmers shout slogans while blocking railway tracks during a protest against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government following the recent passing of new farm bills in parliament, on the outskirts of Amritsar on September 28, 2020. Image Credit: AFP

New Delhi: Farmers’ organisations across India are up in arms against three bills passed by Parliament. Projected as historic reform, the Bills promise freedom to farmers from ‘villainous and exploitative’ Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) mandis (wholesale market) and from the middlemen who charge commission from trade in these mandis, where farmers come to sell their agricultural produce.

Last week, Parliament passed the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020; the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020; and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill.

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Gulf News carried out an investigation on the Indian agriculture sector to find out the truth. We first met Shyam Sunder Mehta, a major farmer from Yamunagar district of Haryana state. Sunder told us how middlemen in Haryana mandis exploit farmers. “When farmers come to mandis to sell their agriculture produce, the middlemen of the mandis, also known as commission agents, buy farmers produce below the Minimum Support Price (MSP), which is set by the government. They do this with the help of the Government Inspector, who checks farmer’s produce quality in the mandis.

"And deliberately declares them to be below quality, to be sold at a lower price. Commission Agents take a major chunk of profit from farmers’ produce. This leaves very little for the farmers. For instance, in Yamunanagar onion farmer sold onions at Rs35 a kilo and the middlemen sold the same for more than Rs100 a kilo.”

Buying very little

Ambrish Tyagi, a big farmer from Ghaziabad district of Uttar Pradesh, had different story to tell. According to him, the UP Government sets MSP of farmers produce, but buys very little produce at that MSP. With the result that farmers are left with no other option but to sell the produce to the middlemen below MSP price. “Mandis of Haryana and Punjab are better organised and stronger than any other part of India,” added Tyagi.

To check on the middlemen, Gulf News met Rahul Khanna (name changed), a middlemen in Khanna district of Punjab, home to the biggest mandi in Asia. We posed as farmers willing to sell our wheat. Rahul said that he will buy our wheat below MSP, as the season is off and the government procurement is over.

Much lower prices

Ashok Garg (name changed) another middlemen of Samalkha Mandi of Panipat, Haryana offered to buy our paddy at prices much below the MSP set by the government. “I know many private players in the market, who will buy our paddy but below the price set by the government,” said Garg.

Suresh (name changed), another middlemen from Narela Mandi of Delhi said: “I am working as a commission agent in this mandi for last 30 years. I know we are working as lifeline for the farmers. In need, farmers borrow money in advance from us. And sell their produce through us. The government only fixed MSP but didn’t buy farmers’ produce at that price. So farmers were left with no other choice but to sell their produce through middlemen, below MSP”.

“I agree middlemen are exploiting farmers. But middlemen are everywhere. The government should work to end middlemen from all sectors,” said Gulshankumar, a landlord from Haryana.