Govt introduces three farm sector bills; Oppn accuses it of attacking federal structure


PTI, Sep 14, 2020, 7:42 PM IST

New Delhi: The Centre on Monday introduced three bills in Lok Sabha on the farm sector, asserting that they will help farmers get a remunerative price for their produce as well as private investments and technology.

Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar introduced ‘The Farmers’ Produce Trade And Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Bill’ and ‘The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill,’ while Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Raosaheb Danve introduced ‘The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill’ to replace the ordinances promulgated by the government earlier.

Tomar said the proposed laws will enable barrier-free trade in agricultural produce, and also empower farmers to engage with investors of their choice.

The minister said that these steps are only the latest in a series of measures taken by the government as part of its continuous commitment to championing the cause of welfare of the farmers of India.

Tomar said that almost 86 per cent of farmers have agricultural land fewer than two hectares and they are often unable to benefit from minimum support price (MSPs). He, however, assured the House that the MSP will stay.

“I want to assure on behalf of the government that MSP was there, is there, and will continue to be there,” Tomar asserted.

The Congress and other parties have been opposing the legislations, alleging they will undermine the safety net provided to the farmers by the MSP system and will lead to their exploitation by big companies.

Taking part in the debate, members of the Congress and the Trinamool Congress claimed that the legislations will only benefit capitalists and accused the Centre of attacking the federal structure of the Constitution.

Tomar said the bill will help the farmers as they are unable to invest much in their farm and do not attract investments from others.

He also rejected the criticism that it was beyond the remit of the union government to legislate on these issues, saying opposition members should trust the Centre.

The Opposition has alleged that the Centre brought in the legislations without consulting the states under whose domain ‘agriculture’ and ‘mandis’ fall.

The minister asked the opposition members to study the content of the bills deeply before “running to oppose them.”

He stressed that farmers will get a lot of benefit from these laws as they can enter into an agreement with private traders for selling their produce.

These agreements will be about the produce and not the farmland, he asserted, rebutting suggestions that farmers may lose ownership of their land.

Opposing the bills, the leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said constitutional provisions are very clear that agriculture is a subject on the State List.

“Such a law can only be brought by State governments… Through this bill, the centre will nullify Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) law enacted by various State governments,” Chowdhury said.

The central government is not competent to make such a law, he asserted, adding, “This is a case of legislative overreach and a direct attack on the federal structure of the Constitution.”

Chowdhury pointed out that farmers of Punjab and Haryana are protesting against these bills. TMC member Saugata Roy claimed that farming will move into the hands of capitalists due to these legislations.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said the bill violates the basic tenets of federalism enshrined in India’s Constitution.

“It is beyond the legislative competence of this house to enact any law on agriculture, which is a domain of the State governments,” Tharoor said.

The bill endangers the right to food of the countrymen, he added.

The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 seeks to increase competition in the agriculture sector and enhance farmers’ income. It aims to liberalise the regulatory system while protecting the interests of consumers. Removing fully the stock limit of farm produce and edible items like fruits and vegetables will be damaging for farmers. This will lead to black marketing and only a few entrepreneurs will benefit, Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said.

“I oppose the way the bill has been presented,” he said.

Congress’ Gaurav Gogoi said that the bill does not define extraordinary circumstances.

The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill provides a framework for the protection and empowerment of farmers with reference to the sale and purchase of farm products.

The Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020, bars State governments from imposing taxes on sale and purchase of farm produce undertaken outside the mandis and gives farmers the freedom to sell their produce at remunerative prices.

Besides, any conflicts arising from the transactions will be dealt with exclusively by the Sub Division Magistrate (SDM) and District Collectorate within 30 days and not in the jurisdiction of civil courts.

At present, farmers are allowed to sell their agriculture produce at 6,900-odd APMC (Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees) mandis spread across the nation. There are restrictions for farmers in selling agri-produce outside the mandis. The ordinances were promulgated on June 5, 2020. However, the Union Agriculture Ministry notified them on July 20.

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