Rituraj Baruah

The prolonged farmers’ protest tempted everyone to sneak a quick look into the pros and cons of the new farm laws. Through whatever details available to read in media, it is quite convincing that these laws are progressive and conducive for an open economy.  Theoretically, these laws seemed to be good. But then why the farmers are protesting so vehemently?

From the farmers’ arguments, it is clear that they are not convinced with these laws. They are apprehensive that there will be a big gap between theory and practice; fair play with the corporates is a far cry from what the new laws intent to make. Their worries cannot be dismissed summarily without looking into it.

Are the Indian corporates doing fair business? Are they dealing with their customers, employees and other stakeholders, in a way the people of the country, properly? The message is clear, there is no trust. The very nature of most of the private sector organizations, small or big, is to make money by any means. Of course there are exceptions like Tatas and Infosys but, they are in minority. This distrust on corporates is playing a crucial role in preventing implementation of these laws.

We are a poor country; our position in the world map in per capita GDP is 145th amongst 192 countries as per 2019 data. An Oxfam report of 2020 suggests that India’s richest 1% owns four times the wealth of bottom 70% of population. The wealth of country’s top nine billionaires is equivalent to the wealth of the bottom 50% population of the country. Thus finding the world’s one of the richest men in our country is no surprise. One can well imagine how this wealth can be acquired in a ranked poor country like ours. Can we take pride on this?

There is no guarantee that the corporate houses will play a fair role in finalizing prices of produce despite having these new farm laws. People have experienced this over the decades where, despite having stringent labour laws most of the companies failed to adhere to it and the workers did not get fair deals. Examples – implementation of minimum wages, social security provisions, working conditions, etc. All this happened despite having a robust enforcement mechanism too.

People can’t forget the scams by Satyam, Sahara, Sharada, INX Media, IL&FS to name a few. Nirav Modi, Vijay Mallya and Mehul Choksi; we know what these names are infamous for. People have not forgotten the exorbitant rates charged by Reliance for outgoing and incoming calls when mobile telecommunication services were first launched in India. Integrity of real estate companies was exposed, cases in hand include DLF and Unitech, if not to talk about small and local ones.

Tough regulations alone will not be enough; attitudinal changes are needed if one wants value for one’s money. Above all, it is important to realize that the key to sustained growth is ethical business practice. No business can survive for long if it treats its customers and stakeholders badly. Yet many businesses are still in the old school of thoughts. They tend to ignore the changes in quality of customers at their own cost. It is an intensely competitive globalized business environment and increasingly connected consumers of goods and services. In the changing scenario these days, consumers can get all information on palm top irrespective of their education level. They can see and judge what is good for them and can accept or reject anything on merit. Without realizing these changes and adapting to it our corporates will not be able to win the heart of the people. How fair deals will be ensured between corporates and farmers in this environment and with the same administrative mechanism and political system? Money can buy anything and anybody. So, the farmers’ anxiety has reasons. This environment is not helping the Government’s cause either in convincing farmers.

The Indian corporate sector has to go a long way to win the confidence of the people insofar as doing fair business is concerned although, its contribution to the economy of the country is significant. It has to do business by taking care of all stakeholders with long-term perspectives and join hands with the Government to create an environment where we can have an open economy in real terms for the benefit of the people and the nation at large.

Moreover, state protected mandis and MSP have been giving the farmers a sense of security of their returns for years. No one would like to come out of this comfort zone and compete in an open market so easily. It’s like withdrawing reservation systems in employment and education and asking youths to compete in the open market. A political will and systematic approach by correcting the environment must be the key to withdraw all these protections gradually in a time frame. This approach would give a clear message on the intent of the Government for easy sailing of the reforms envisaged.

No human being can remain neutral on any matter, he/she will take side without even expressing anything. This is nature. Leaders are also human and they also take side. But those leaders who can keep it at minimum and can keep it invisible are real leaders. It remains to be seen how our present leaders can help corporates to win confidence from the people of the country following this principle. The exhibits so far indicate the contrary.