Parliament on Tuesday passed The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which removes cereal, pulses, oilseed, edible oil, onion and potatoes from the list of essential commodities.
The Bill was passed in Rajya Sabha by a voice vote, in the absence of the Opposition, which boycotted proceedings. Lok Sabha had passed it on September 15.
The Bill replaces an ordinance promulgated in June and amends the Essential Commodities Act, 1955.
Introducing it, Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Danve Raosaheb Dadarao said the Bill aims to remove fears among private investors of excessive regulatory interference in their business operations. The freedom to produce, hold, move, distribute and supply will lead to harnessing of economies of scale and attract private sector/foreign direct investment into the agriculture sector, he said.
It will help drive up investment in cold storage and modernisation of the food supply chain, the minister added.
Dadarao pointed out that the government, while liberalising the regulatory environment, has also ensured that interests of consumers are safeguarded. It has been provided in the amendment that in situations such as war, famine, extraordinary price rise and natural calamity, such agricultural foodstuff can be regulated, he said.
“This amendment is required to prevent wastage of agricultural produce due to lack of storage facilities,’’ Dadarao said.
BJP MP from Bihar, Gopal Narain Singh, said: “With FCI (Food Corporation of India) controlling stocks before, there were less investment and buyers (earlier). Farmers often hoarded for six months to get a better price, and their produce often rotted. The possibility of export will benefit farmers.”
Stating that the Bill ensures farm sector transformation and a stable regime, while increasing farmer income, Amar Patnaik of BJD said the definition of calamity should be clarified and expanded to include man-made calamities such as gas leaks. He also asked the government to clarify how the difference between farmer’s support price and consumer price will be bridged.
“We also feel too much space and liberty has been provided to contract sponsors, who can now play around with the market — at the cost of the farmers. I would also urge you to take the storage element out of the Bill, as this could lead to manipulation,” Patnaik said.
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