Rajasthan became the second Congress-ruled state after Punjab to counter the Centre’s new farm laws when it tabled three Bills in the state Assembly Saturday, saying there was “extraordinary outrage” among farmers.
State 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, in the Assembly.
The move comes after the Punjab Assembly unanimously passed four Bills, including three amendment Bills, to counter the Centre’s new laws. The Bills tabled by Rajasthan are similar to the Bills passed by Punjab, but the Rajasthan Bills are more stringent when it comes to taking action against traders who harass farmers.
The key clauses in the three Rajasthan Bills include setting the Minimum Support Price (MSP) as the lower limit for farming agreements, punishing traders if they harass farmers, and empowering the state government to regulate the production, supply, distribution and stock limits under extraordinary circumstances.
More strict than Punjab
The Bills are similar to the Punjab legislation, but are more stringent when it comes to punishing traders who harass farmers. The jail term can be 3-7 years or minimum fine of Rs 5 lakh, or both.
The state government said it felt the need to bring in a legislation following “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.” following the enactment of central laws.
It said 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 said the central law “is 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”.
The state government, citing the Agriculture Census 2015-16, said 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”.
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 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. According to 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.
It also states that a dispute may be resolved through the state APMC Act and rules made thereunder, rather than through a Sub Divisional Magistrate, as provided in the central Act.
Similarly, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2020, seeks to penalise any company or association which compels or exerts a farmer to sell his produce below the MSP — in Punjab, the government had announced imprisonment of minimum three years and fine for the same offence.
This state Bill also inserts a key clause in the central Act, 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 minimum support prices, announced by the Central Government for that crop”.
With the central Act also stating that following a farming agreement, the said agriculture produce is exempt from any state Act, the Rajasthan government seeks to impose a fee or cess to the produce under the 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.
The Essential Commodities (Special Provisions and Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 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”.
The state maintained that the Centre’s amendments “give unlimited power of stocking essential commodities and trading in them to the peril of the agricultural community and consumers but does not allow the state government to act against and penalize hoarders and black-marketers,” while the “onus lies upon the state government to protect consumers from hoarding and black-marketing of agricultural produce including vegetables, fruits, etc.”
The state government also tabled a Bill to amend section 60 of Code of Civil Procedure “to protect the interests and livelihood of agriculturists of the state”. According to the Bill, if the judgement-debtor is an agriculturist, then his agricultural land to the extent of five acres shall not be liable to attachment or sale.
The Assembly was adjourned until Monday after tabling of two more Bills and obituary references to former President Pranab Mukherjee and other leaders who passed away recently.
Article 254(2) of the Constitution allows a state to make changes to a central legislation on a subject on the Concurrent List only if it gets Presidential assent. While the Congress party does not expect the President to clear any move to circumvent the new farm laws, its leadership believes that passage of counter Bills by party-ruled states would be “a strong political statement”.
Congress state president Govind Singh Dotasra said the three Bills passed by the Centre are interlinked “so that a businessman can hoard, rob farmer’s produce and end MSP once the mandis are finished. Hence, our government is bringing Bills to counter these three things and ensure the welfare of our farmers”.
BJP state president Satish Poonia said: “Rather than discussing the poor law and order situation in the state, why is Gehlot misleading the farmers by trying to please Sonia Gandhi through the Bills?”. Deputy Leader of Opposition Rajendra Rathore said the BJP will oppose the Bills when the Assembly reconvenes on Monday.
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