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Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Toeing Punjab and Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan introduces three bills to counter Centre’s farm laws

Last month, Congress president Sonia Gandhi had directed party-ruled states to explore the possibility of passing Bills to "bypass" and "negate" provisions of the contentious farm laws.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | Updated: October 31, 2020 5:28:48 pm
The development comes after over a month of protests by farmers across Punjab, Haryana

Following in the footsteps of Punjab, the Congress government in Rajasthan introduced three bills in the state Assembly to counter the Centre’s new farm laws cleared by the Parliament last month.

Earlier this month, the Punjab Assembly passed four new state farm Bills, including three amendment Bills, striking down key provisions of the Centre’s laws, and barring the sale and purchase of wheat or paddy below the MSP. The Chhattisgarh assembly also approved the Chhattisgarh Krishi Upaj Mandi (Amendment) Bill 2020 that declared the entire state as a market for selling agriculture produce to “protect” its farmers from the Centre’s farm laws.

On the first day of the Assembly session, Rajasthan’s Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shanti Dhariwal introduced the Essential Commodities (Special Provisions and Rajasthan Amendment) Bill 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill 2020 and the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation and Rajasthan Amendment) Bill 2020.

Dhariwal also introduced the Code of Procedure (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill 2020 during the session, which was later adjourned for the day after obituary references on the death of former president Pranab Mukherjee and other leaders who passed away recently.

Speaking to reporters, Rajasthan minister Pratap Khachariyawas said, “The farm laws passed by Centre without taking states into confidence has seen widespread protests. Centre is lying to farmers and we are trying to secure their rights and will pass farm bills here similar to those in Punjab.”

Under Article 254(2) of the Constitution, a state can make changes to a central legislation on a subject on the  concurrent list provided its law gets Presidential assent. As per the procedure, if the Bills are passed by the Assembly, it would then be routed through the Governor to the President, who will send the legislations to the Union Ministry of Home Affairs for their comments. The legislations could be sent to the Council of Union Ministers also for their advice before finally signed by the President if he chooses to do so.

Last month, Congress president Sonia Gandhi had directed party-ruled states to explore the possibility of passing Bills to “bypass” and “negate” provisions of the contentious farm laws. The party high command had even circulated a draft Bill to the states.

On October 20, hours after Punjab passed the four amendment Bills, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot had said his state would follow suit in bypassing the “anti-farmer laws”.

“INC under the leadership of Smt #SoniaGandhi ji& #RahulGandhi ji stands absolutely with our ‘annadatas’ and will continue to oppose the anti-farmer laws passed by NDA Govt. Today Congress Govt in #Punjab has passed Bills against these laws & #Rajasthan will follow soon,” Gehlot had tweeted on October 20.

In each of the three Bills, the Punjab government has claimed that the application of central laws to the state was being changed to “restore the agricultural safeguards for the farmers through the regulatory framework of Punjab Agricultural Produce Markets Act, 1961 to secure and protect the interests and livelihoods of farmers and farm labourers as also all others engaged in agriculture and related activities”.

Punjab’s decision came after over a month of protests by farmers across the state. The three contentious farm laws —  The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 — has seen farmers and the Opposition hit the streets in protest in different parts of the country and one of BJP’s oldest allies and a founding member of the NDA, the Shiromani Akali Dal, quitting the ruling coalition at the Centre.

The primary objection of the farmers is to the first law, which provides for the creation of a “trade area” outside the existing APMC Mandis. While there is no mention of the MSP mechanism in any of the three Bills, farmers fear that if the mandi system comes to an end, MSP will soon follow. The government maintains that the MSP system will continue.

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