Arhityas, often seen as ‘exploiters’ of farmers, are also agitating with the farmers.

 

New Delhi: Amid the ongoing farmers’ protest, the Supreme Court on Thursday suggested that the Central government put the implementation of the new farm laws on hold and negotiate with the farmers. However, the government has stated that the farmers will not negotiate if implementation of the laws is put on hold. The farmers have been protesting for more than 20 days now, over three contentious laws—the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; the Farmers’ Produce Trade & Commerce (Promotion & Facilitation Ordinance) 2020; and the Essential Commodities Act, 2020—passed in September this year.

Interestingly, Arhityas, who are often seen as the “exploiters” of the peasants, are also coming forward to agitate with the farmers against the farm laws. Arhityas, often referred to as “bichauliya” or middlemen, facilitate the transaction between a farmer and buyer. Several farmers The Sunday Guardian spoke to, describe Arhityas as modern-day sahukars as they also finance the farmers. The farmers, especially the Arhityas, believe that they will be out of jobs if the entire farm trade moves out of mandis due to these laws. More importantly, farmers fear it may eventually lead to the end of the minimum support price (MSP).

These Arhityas take a 2.5% commission for the work they do and the services they provide to the farmers. According to reports, Arhityas have a bad reputation because they lend money to the farmers in need and generally at a much higher rate. Several farmers told The Sunday Guardian that due to the absence of institutional credit for many farmers, they are dependent on Arhtiyas for money.

Meanwhile, All India Kisan Coordination Committee has extended their support to new farm laws and met Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar on Monday. The members of AIKCC believe that these laws will save the farmers from the “clutches of the middlemen” who have exploited them over the years.

Gunvant Patil, National Secretary, All India Kisan Coordination Committee (AIKCC), told The Sunday Guardian: “There is a sense of insecurity among the farmers of Punjab and Haryana; so they are protesting, but they need to see the bigger picture. In the long run, this law will help them. Initially, such doubts about the law are natural, but there is no harm in the laws. Punjab is the major producer of wheat and rice. Farmers believe that they can get the guaranteed price only through the government or APMC. So they are worried and they started protesting; now the protest has become a motive for the Leftist agenda. Arhtiyas were never traders rather they are commission agents. They have a monopoly over the market and a lot of politics and corruption are involved in their commissions. We have been agitating against the Arhitya system for so many years now. But the farmer is so used to this exploitive system that they don’t want this to end.”

Patil also said that the government is broadening the business and the Arhityas are scared they their “monopoly” will come to an end.

“The government wants to bring competition in the market so that the farmers can get a fair price. With this law, the farmers will be free. The farmers are needy and Arhityas exploit their needs and this had become a toxic cycle and nobody wants to break this chain. Arhityasare not messiahs. They have more interest rates for loans compared to banks. Above all, people with vested interests and those who hate everything Modiji does are involved in this protest. Nobody cares about the farmers. We want to make the farmers aware about these laws and we are doing it. We also planning to visit Delhi on 26  December for the cause,” Patil said.

In a recent study by Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad’s Professor Sukhpal Singh revealed that the existence of Arhityas is “undesirable for both farm produce markets as well as credit markets”.

“The system of payment for the farmers’ produce through Arhtiyas is the root cause of trouble for farmers as Arhityas offer unregistered and informal money lending at high rates of interest and supply farm inputs and groceries to farmers on seasonal credit,” the study says.

The income of an Arhitya is dependent on the quantity and value of produce routed through him and hence aligns the Arhtiya’s interests much more with those of the farmers. Apart from selling the produce of the farmers, Arhityas also take care of other essentials like farm machinery, seeds, fertilizers, pesticides, etc. The farmers also said that there is a sense of mistrust for the government and this has led to more dependence on Arhityas.

Paramjeet Singh Katyal, president of Yogendra Yadav-led Jai Kisan Andolan’s Haryana unit, told The Sunday Guardian: “This is not Arhtiyas’ andolan, this is farmers’ agitation. Most of the protesters are small farmers who have 1-2 acres of land. Arhityas are like bankers for the farmers. The banks have fixed timing, but these Arhityas have a special relationship with the farmers and they even lend them money without caring whether it’s 2 am or 2 pm. Arhityas also need farmers as they will come to them for selling their crops and they will get their commissions. Arhityas even help the farmers during marriages or medical emergencies. Now the government is planning to open private markets and this will endanger APMCs. Initially, for a year or two, this may be a good law, but after that problems will arise. When the APMCs are gone, the private markets will not give them the proper price for their crops.”

Katyal also said that rather than eradicating the APMCs and bring private players, the government should bring measures to improve APMCs. “In 2011, while being CM of Gujarat, Narendra Modi had written a letter to then PM Manmohan Singh requesting him to bring laws to improve APMCs and punishment for those who don’t follow MSPs. What happened now? We will keep fighting till our demands are fulfilled and we respect the decision of the Supreme Court. We are protesting peacefully and the police have been violent towards us. We have also conveyed our reasons to the officials why the laws should be scrapped and we are hoping that the government will listen to us,” he added.