The Gujarat Assembly, on the last day of the monsoon session, passed a Bill amending Gujarat Agricultural Produce Markets Act, 1963, which makes the entire state a “unified market” where a trader can buy farmers’ produce from anywhere. The opposition Congress staged a walkout calling the Bill “anti-farmer” and “pro-corporate”. The ruling BJP refused to withdraw the Bill while saying that it is in the lines of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision to double farmers’ income by 2022.
Presented by Minister of State for Cooperation Ishwarsinh Patel on Friday, the Bill has been modelled on the Act given to different states by the Central Government. It has renamed the APMC Act as the Gujarat Agricultural Produce and Marketing (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 1963.
The object statement of the Bill said, “The Government of India had constituted a Committee in 2016 to examine and address the entire segment of post-production activities and to recommend a model Act…The model Act prepared and has been forwarded to all the States and UTs. The Central Government has recommended to make all the States and UTs to adopt necessary changes to suit the local variations while all the time, ensuring that the spirit of competition is encouraged and the principle of ‘farmer first’ is kept in mind.”
The Bill, which has repealed an ordinance passed earlier in May by the state government, made entire state a unified market where a trader will get single unified license and can buy farmer’s produce from anywhere in the state. It also restricted the power of an APMC to collect cess over a transaction within its jurisdiction as now it can only levy cess on transactions that are done within the boundary walls of its marketing yard.
So far, the traders were able to buy a farmer’s produce from an APMC where they possess a license to operate.
An official release on the Bill from the state government said, “The farmers of Gujarat were able to sell their produce in any APMC of the state. Now, with this provision of single unified license, a trader of Gujarat can do trading in any APMC, market yard, sub yard or private yard. With this provision, the options for farmers to sell their produce will increase…The competition to buy farmers’ produce will increase and its direct benefit will be to the farmers.”
As per the Bill, private warehouses, silos, cold storages can also function as a market yard.
The Bill also has a provision to start an e-trading platform to be operated by an agency to be appointed by the state government. “Private market yards, warehouses, silos will also be joined with this e-platform,” the release said.
Concept of Market Yard of National Importance (MNI) has also been introduced in the Bill. Any market committee which is getting more than 30 per cent of its total agriculture produce from minimum two states other than Gujarat will be earmarked as MNI. “Through this, the market committee will be able to register its presence nationally,” the release said.
Several other provisions related to APMCs, their formation & functioning, election of its office bearers have also been introduced in the Bill.
Opposing the Bill, Congress MLA from Patan Kirit Patel said, “We would have supported the Bill, had it been for the welfare of farmers. This Bill has been brought in only for those BJP office bearers who have started private market yards at the cost of crores, but which are not yielding them benefit. This Bill has been introduced only for the benefit of such private entities.”
Congress MLA from Savarkundla Harshad Ribadiya said, “The state government seems to have brought this Bill for the benefit of corporates…The state government should have brought a Bill with a provision to fix minimum support price for a farmer’s produce. Meaning, the farmer’s produce cannot be bought below a particular price. The current Bill may result in exploitation of farmers (by private entities).”
Another Congress MLA Geniben Thakor from Vav constituency expressed concern for the employees of APMC who may face job loss since the APMC’s income will go down significantly due to the latest Bill.
Leader of Opposition Paresh Dhanani said that by curtailing the role of APMCs, the Bill will remove an important link between farmers and traders which may result in illiterate farmers’ exploitation in the state.
Defending the Bill, Energy Minister Saurabh Patel said, “If benefits of globalization are available to industry and service sector, why should agriculture sector be excluded from it.”
“One must salute Prime Minister Narendra Modi who has dared to take this decision in the interest of farmers without bothering about vote bank,” Patel said.
He added that the system which is existing currently is completely available to farmers. The new system is for those farmers, he added, who wanted to go out of it, if they get better price for their produce.
Patel said that with availability of direct market, the cost of transport, wastage and middleman on produce will be cut resulting in the overall benefit for both the farmer and the end consumer.
“Some friends are saying that MSP will be discontinued. Those who are worried and talking about discontinuation of MSP, I want to tell them that MSP will not be discontinued… But, why don’t you think like that the farmers should get such rate that they do not require MSP,” Patel said.
He also said that these new changes in the agriculture sector will help bring new investments to it.