THE Congress on Monday stepped up its agitation over the new farm laws, with the party asking the four states ruled by it to explore legislation to “bypass” their provisions. As the Congress held protests outside Raj Bhavans across states, the party’s Thrissur MP, T N Prathapan, moved the Supreme Court against one of the Acts.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh also announced that the state, which is seeing massive protests over the laws, would approach the top court.
Congress general secretary (organisation) K C Venugopal said party president Sonia Gandhi had directed Punjab, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Puducherry to explore the possibility of passing laws under Article 254(2) of the Constitution, “to negate the anti-agriculture central laws, encroaching upon the states’ jurisdiction”.
Under Article 254(2), a state can make changes to a central legislation on a subject in the concurrent list provided its law gets Presidential assent. While the Congress does not expect President Ram Nath Kovind to clear legislation circumventing the new farm laws, it believes doing so would be a strong political statement.
In the first legal challenge to the laws, Congress MP T N Prathapan on Monday moved the Supreme Court against the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, saying the legislation had been passed “hastily” and will spell disaster for the farming community by opening a “parallel”, “unregulated” market.
The Thrissur MP also questioned the provision for disputes regarding payment to be resolved under the new system by sub-divisional magistrates. Calling this a violation of the Constitution, Prathapan said, “It puts them in a position wherein if any dispute arises, the farmer will be running towards the already overburdened bureaucracy… instead of… a court of law.”
Holding a dharna on the farm laws at Khatar Kalan, Bhagat Singh’s ancestral village, where he had gone to offer tributes to the freedom fighter on his 113th birth anniversary, Amarinder Singh said his lawyers were arriving in Delhi on Tuesday for consultations. “Now that the President has given his consent (on the laws), we will take our fight to the Supreme Court,” he said, adding a decision would be taken in the next two days.
Singh warned that Punjab’s youth might decide that taking up arms is their only option to preserve their right to live. “The new laws will endanger the security of the border state of Punjab, as Pakistan’s ISI is always looking for opportunities to foment trouble,” he said, adding that with farmer unrest spreading, the entire country might be at risk.
The CM also accused the Centre of bypassing states on the matter, saying Punjab was never consulted, and asked why the Bills — Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill — had been rushed through Parliament. “When they can break constitutional guarantees, who can trust their verbal assurances (on the MSP)?” the CM said. “We (the states) have nothing left except excise from liquor sales.”
Sources said the Congress leadership had taken advice from senior lawyer and party MP Abhishek Singhvi before issuing the direction to its CMs to frame laws bypassing the changes by the Centre. Leaders pointed out that in 2015, then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had advised states to use the same route when amendment to the land acquisition Bill had got stalled because of lack of consensus.
“I have no doubt that given the BJP’s double standards, what was accepted and held to be valid when given by the central BJP leadership will now hypocritically not be followed by the BJP,” Singhvi told The Indian Express.
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