Farm Laws, Dissent And Democracy






Professor Atul Sood

(Centre for the Study of Regional Development, JNU )

March 01, 2021 (Monday), 3.00 pm

(Recorded Video)



About the Speaker

Atul Sood teaches at the Centre for the Study of Regional Development, Jawaharlal Nehru University New Delhi and has been a Professor at the Centre since 2007. He has more then three decades of teaching and research experience at various institutions in India and abroad. Dr Sood's edited volume Poverty Amidst Prosperity: Essays on the Trajectory of Development in Gujarat elicited wide critical discussion.  He has also co-authored, Punjab Crisis: Context and Trends (1984). In recent years, he has written on the politics of growth in India, the political economy of green growth in India, the changing capital labour relations in India, demonetization and its moral economy, labouring lives amid the lockdown and labour laws. His core research interest is to understand development policy and its outcomes in contemporary India. 



The government introduced three Farm Bills in the monsoon session of Parliament. Together, these Bills proposed to relax restrictions on the purchase and sale of farm produce and on stocking under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, and outlined a framework on contract farming. In a matter of less than two weeks, without democratic process and discussion, the farm Bills bulldozed their way into becoming laws. 

Agriculture sector reforms had been on the government’s agenda for the last few decades, with policy experts stressing the need to shift people from agricultural work to provide cheap labour in manufacturing and services sectors. The only option for the rural workforce is to become perennial, casual labour force in unwelcoming cities. Several attempts, through reform commissions and committees to hasten this process, remained unsuccessful. The government used the opportunity of COVID-19 to push the laws through. It was not only the farm Acts, but also the Industrial Relations Code, Code on Social Security, and the Occupational Health, Safety, and Working Conditions Code which were introduced and passed in both houses of Parliament in record time in September 2020 without any discussion.  

The supporters of these legislative changes believe that the earlier laws were responsible for the poor working conditions of the labour and for the declining agricultural incomes and deepening of the agrarian crisis in rural India. And therefore, any disagreement of these laws amounts to a lack of understanding of growth processes and those raising the opposition in the public domain acting against the interests of the nation.  Just as labour is disempowered in the new labour regime, the farmers fear that laws will lead to dispossession of the vast majority of the farmers of their land, compromise the food security of the poor and the landless, and strengthen the control of the big the corporates of farming.  

The response of the State to this contestation around laws has followed the well-known template terming the farm struggle first as misguided and then a conspiracy against the economic interests of the country and criminalising the movement.  The state response is unravelling the fault lines of Indian Democracy and India’s Development Paradigm. The disturbing suppression of basic rights and freedom through the use of the preventive detention laws and special legislations has got entrenched further.  

This lecture will open up the question of this ‘jugalbandi’ - the twin strategy of reform and repression - between the economic and the political and discuss its implications for the changing nature of the Indian State and the cracks in the development paradigm.