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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Explained: The three farm Bills introduced by Rajasthan, what they seek to achieve

As the issue became increasingly political, Congress president Sonia Gandhi directed party-ruled states to explore the possibility of passing Bills to “bypass” and “negate” provisions of the contentious farm laws.

Written by Hamza Khan , Edited by Explained Desk | Jaipur | Updated: November 2, 2020 6:46:35 pm
Members of various farmer organisations on their way to stage a protest against the central government over farm laws (File)

The Rajasthan Assembly on Saturday tabled three Bills to negate the impact of Centre’s new farm laws cleared by the Parliament in September.

Parliamentary Affairs minister Shanti Kumar Dhariwal introduced The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2020, and The Essential Commodities (Special Provisions and Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2020.

The three Bills introduced in Rajasthan are similar to the amendment Bills passed by Punjab, another Congress ruled state, on October 20. The Bills are expected to be taken up for discussion, and passed, when the Assembly re-convenes on Monday.

What is the rationale given by the state to amend the three central farm laws?

For the first two Bills, the state government cites “extraordinary outrage amongst the farmers, farm labourers and all others engaged in incidental and ancillary agricultural activities, including those engaged in production, handling and sale of agricultural produce including vegetables, fruits etc” due to the central laws.

It says that “the direct consequence of the Central Act(s) would be to nullify the minimum support price mechanism that has stood the test of time and introduce several other infirmities and distortions operating to the grave detriment and prejudice of agriculture and the communities associated with it”.

The state government says the central laws “are vulnerable to encroachment and manipulation by vested corporate interests through provisions contained therein and leaving the farmer open to the vagaries of market forces for getting remunerative price for agriculture produce, including fruits and vegetables. No check has been provided against exploitation of farmer”.

Farm Bills, Farm laws, Punjab farm bills, Punjab farmers, farmer protests, Ram Nath Kovind, Amarinder Singh, Punjab news, Indian Express The development comes after over a month of protests by farmers across Punjab, Haryana

Citing the Agriculture Census 2015-16, the government further says that 86.2 per cent of farmers own less than five acres of land and a majority of them own less than two acres of land, thus falling in the category of small and marginal farmers “and consequently have limited or no access to multiple markets with an inherent handicap of bargaining power to negotiate fair price contracts”.

For the third Bill — The Essential Commodities (Special Provisions and Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2020, the state says that the amendment passed by the Centre empowers the government to control production, supply and distribution of essential commodities. “Newly inserted sub-section (1A) broadly provides that Central Government may regulate the supply of food stuff under extra ordinary circumstances and stock limit of agricultural produce subject certain conditions,” it says.

The Ashok Gehlot government states that as per the Constitution, the “production, supply and distribution of goods” – baring certain exceptions in the Concurrent list – is a state subject. It, however, ignores entry 33 (b) of the Concurrent list, which covers “the trade and commerce in, and the production, supply and distribution of foodstuffs, including edible oilseeds and oils”.

farm bills 2020, farmers protest, farmers protest news, farmers govt talks, indian express During a protest in Patiala (Express Photo: Harmeet Sodhi/File)

What are the key features of the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2020?

The Bill, which relates to the Centre’s Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, seeks to penalise traders, if they harass farmers, with a punishment of 3-7 years or a minimum fine of Rs 5 lakh, or both. As per the Bill, harassment will be treated as committed when the trader does not accept the delivery of the farm produce agreed upon or, having accepted the delivery, does not make the payment to the farmer in accordance with the terms of the agreement or within three days from the date of receipt of delivery of goods, whichever is earlier.

The Central law prohibited imposition of any “market fee or cess or levy” on any farmer or trader or electronic trading in a farmers’ produce trade area. The Rajasthan Bill allows the state to impose a fee/cess, etc on agricultural produce brought or bought or sold “by a corporate or trader” and then credit it back to farmers, through various means, for their welfare.

It also states that a dispute may be resolved through the State APMC Act rather than through a sub-divisional Magistrate, as given in the Central Act.

Police detain farmers protesting against the farm laws in Lucknow on Friday. (Express Photo: Vishal Srivastav)

What are the key features of the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2020?

This Bill, which deals with the Centre’s Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, has a key clause stating that “no Farming Agreement for the sale or purchase of a crop shall be valid unless the price paid for such agricultural produce is equal to, or greater than, the prevailing MSPs, announced by the Central Government for that crop”.

The Central Act states that following a farming agreement, the said agriculture produce is exempt from any state act. The Rajasthan government, however, seeks to impose a fee or cess to the produce under APMC Act and utilise it for the welfare of farmers. Crucially, the burden of the fee or cess “shall not be transferred on the farmer,” states the Bill.

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What are the key features of the Essential Commodities (Special Provisions and Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2020?

The Bill, which mainly deals with Centre’s Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, empowers the state “to order for regulating or prohibiting the production, supply, distribution, imposing stock limits under extraordinary circumstances, which may include famine, price rise, natural calamity or any other situation”. It essentially seeks to protect consumers from hoarding and black-marketing of agricultural produce, including vegetables, fruits, etc.

Explained | What Punjab’s three new farm Bills say

Will the Bills become an Act?

The introduction of the Bills come in the backdrop of fierce protests by farmers, especially in Punjab and Haryana, after the Central government passed the legislations hurriedly in the Parliament. The President gave his assent to Centre’s three farm Bills in September, even as Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), one of the oldest allies of the BJP and a founding member of the NDA, parted ways with the BJP.

As the issue became increasingly political, Congress president Sonia Gandhi directed party-ruled states to explore the possibility of passing Bills to “bypass” and “negate” provisions of the contentious farm laws, with the party high command circulating a draft a Bill to the states. Article 254(2) of the Constitution allows a state to make changes to central legislation on a subject on the concurrent list only if it gets Presidential assent.

While the party does not expect President Ram Nath Kovind to clear any move to circumvent the new farm laws, its leadership believes it would be “a strong political statement”.

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