Kishor Kumar Kalita
In a historic move, the present BJP led Narendra Modi government recently has tabled three Bills on agriculture reforms – The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020; The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 which were brought through ordinance during the period of lockdown. Immediately after the introduction of these bills, Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigned as a union minister in protest against these anti farmers bills that have already incited massive resentment among its all-important voter base of farmers. After the resignation of Harsimrat the oldest ally of the BJP, the Shiromani Akali Dal has stated before the media that it will reconsider its alliance with the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) as the party could not stand without the farmers.
President Ram Nath Kovind on Sunday on 26th September gave his assent to the three contentious farm Bills passed by the Parliament and after his assent all these three bills became law. Before going into the probable impacts of these proposed laws, here I would like to mention a few provisions of these bills very briefly.
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020
The bill in its beginning paragraph has mentioned that it has been enacted to provide for the creation of an ecosystem where the farmers and traders enjoy the freedom of choice relating to the sale and purchase of farmers’ produce which facilitates remunerative prices through competitive alternative trading channels; to promote efficient, transparent and barrier-free inter-State and intra-State trade and commerce of farmers’ produce outside the physical premises of markets or deemed markets notified under various State agricultural produce market legislations; to provide a facilitative framework for electronic trading and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
So according to the government, this bill will create an opportunity for both the farmers and traders and they will get the freedom of choice of sale and purchase of agri-produce. It will also uphold barrier-free inter-state and intra-state trade and commerce outside the existing markets that are notified under State Agricultural Produce Marketing legislations. The new legislation will enable the farmers to get better prices and will reduce marketing costs. The Bill also proposes electronic trading that will ensure transparent trade dealing. The farmers will not be charged any cess or levy for the sale of their produce under this Act.
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020
This bill aims to provide for a national framework on farming agreements that protects and empowers farmers to engage with agri-business firms, processors, wholesalers, exporters, or large retailers for farm services and sale of future farming produce at a mutually agreed remunerative price framework in a fair and transparent manner and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto. The government has said that such new legislation will empower farmers for engaging with processors, wholesalers, aggregators, wholesalers, large retailers, exporters, etc without any fear of exploitation. It enables the farmer to access modern technology and better inputs. It will reduce the cost of marketing and improve the income of farmers. The proponents of these acts also argue that the legislation will help to attract private sector investment for building supply chains for the supply of Indian farm produce to national and global markets and in agricultural infrastructure.
The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020
The Essential Commodities Act, 1955 empowers the central government to designate certain commodities (such as food items, fertilizers, and petroleum products) as essential commodities. The central government may regulate or prohibit the production, supply, distribution, trade, and commerce of such essential commodities. The bill provides that the central government may regulate the supply of certain food items including cereals, pulses, potatoes, onions, edible oilseeds, and oils, only under extraordinary circumstances. It says- “ the supply of such foodstuffs, including cereals, pulses, potato, onions, edible oilseeds and oils, as the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, specify, may be regulated only under extraordinary circumstances which may include war, famine, extraordinary price rise and natural calamity of grave nature.”
Now let’s come to the criticism and vehement opposition against these new farmers legislation. The farmers of this country have already expressed their apprehension that after the execution of these legislation the government will gradually withdraw its responsibility to stipulate the minimum support price (MSP) for different agricultural produces. The left parties have revealed that the proposed acts will give absolute opportunities to the corporate house for corporate farming and eventually they will dominate the Indian food and agriculture business. Furthermore, as a result of unrestricted trade dealing between farmers and traders, farmers will get a rare chance to bargain and consequently corporate will play the role of the master to force the farmers to reduce prices. Many have criticised that these bills are the examples of the centre oriented governance mechanism of present day India where the constitutional powers of the state government are gradually diminishing in the pretext of law enaction.