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Lack of Environmental Sustainability, Social equity and Economic Viability of Agristack Concerns Farmers & Digital Rights Groups

Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan
Dr. Lakshmi Unnithan

As many as 91 organisations that work for farmers’ rights and digital rights put out their concerns and were highlighted in a letter in response to the consultation paper published by the Union Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare on June 1. 

ASHA Kisan Swaraj, Bharatiya Kisan Union(Tikait),Jai Kisan Andolan,Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha, Krantikari Kisan Union, Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch (MAKAAM), Internet Freedom Foundation, IT For Change, Rethink Aadhaar, Software Freedom Law Centre, India (SFLC.in) and other organizations, including those working on agricultural issues and digital rights, wrote to the Ministry about fundamental problems with the process being followed by the Government of India in pushing digitisation in the agriculture sector.  

In the letter, they showcased the fundamental problems with the process being followed by the Government of India in pushing digitisation in the agriculture sector. They demand that the Government do not rush into the “IDEA” proposals and should in fact withdraw the MoUs already entered into with various companies like Microsoft, Amazon, Star Agribazaar, ESRI and Patanjali. 

The Letter mentions that the Pilot Projects have started before the consultation,Language of the consultation paper is only in English and so meaningful consultations cannot take place for an average farmer.The proposition of the  database to be built on digitised land records, which are far from perfect even in the case of land-owning farmers and will exclude entire categories of landless farmers.  The serious concern is that of absence of a data protection law and no regulatory mechanisms planned to prevent the economic exploitation of the farmer in the ambitious digital ecosystem which, among other things, seeks to create online marketplaces for farmers’ produce, nor clear accountability mechanisms of who will benefit from the system is absent. 

There seems to be no discussions with farmers, no farmer representation in the existing task force or in the governance framework of IDEA. And that linking financing for state governments to adoption of this initiative as proposed in this draft is highly problematic too.Restriction on coping of raw data through data exchanges are necessary to ensure that farmers are in control of their data and last but not least Insufficient digital access and literacy in the nation, with existing asymmetries creating a non-level playing field. It is unclear what autonomy does a farmer have, if s/he wants to be included in a limited manner, or wants to opt out.  It is also unclear what happens to the farmers who are excluded from this ecosystem; there is no clarity on grievance redressal mechanisms and whether they would be farmer-friendly. 

Several corporations including Microsoft, Amazon and Patanjali to start implementation of concepts being proposed in the paper. It is unclear on what basis these entities were chosen, and why the pilots should have started before public consultations. The letter demanded that implementation of these MoUs be immediately stopped until more extensive consultations take place on these developments with farmer groups to understand their requirements and concerns 

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