WITH THE Opposition SAD raising the stakes with the resignation of Harsimrat Kaur Badal from the Union Cabinet over the Centre’s Farm Bills amid protests by farmers, Congress-ruled Punjab is “seriously contemplating” a move to amend its APMC Act and declare the entire state as a Principal Mandi Yard, The Indian Express has learnt.
Sources said the government, which is under “tremendous political pressure”, believes that doing so will circumvent provisions in The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, which was passed in Parliament.
The declaration of mandi yards ensures that any procurement outside their ambit is considered illegal, farmers do not get a price less than the MSP, and the state gets its mandi fee.
Sources said the government is yet to take a final decision after Chief Minister Amarinder Singh sought legal opinion on the issue and was briefed by Advocate General Atul Nanda Thursday evening.
When contacted, Nanda declined to provide any details. State Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal said the government is considering such a move. “But there is a feeling that the Supreme Court may shoot it down. The Chief Minister has already said that we will go to the Supreme Court against the central government’s legislation. Let us see,” he said.
Sources in the Chief Minister’s Office said that agriculture experts had recommended on September 17 that Punjab should follow steps taken by Rajasthan, another Congress-ruled state.
Last month, Rajasthan had notified all warehouses under the Food Corporation of India (FCI), Central Warehousing Corporation (CWC) and Rajasthan State Warehousing Corporation (RSWC) as procurement centres under the state’s APMC Act.
“At the time, the Chief Minister told us that he would wait for both Houses of Parliament to pass the Bills. Now, the government is considering both the possibilities. It may declare the entire state a mandi yard or it may look at replicating the Rajasthan model,” sources said.
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On Wednesday, SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal and Congress Rajya Sabha MP Partap Singh Bajwa had suggested that the Chief Minister should declare the entire state as a Principal Mandi Yard. Badal had also said that if the SAD is voted to power in 2022, it will amend the law.
The Centre’s Bill has defined a trade area as any area or location that does not include the physical boundaries of market yards managed and run by the market committees formed under each state APMC Act. This enables farmers to sell their produce directly, without having to go through the APMC mandis or middlemen.
But the provision has also triggered concerns among farmers that if the mandi system comes to an end, the MSP mechanism would be scrapped, too. Speaking at The Indian Express Idea Exchange Wednesday, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar had stressed that the central government was committed to MSP.
Under the Punjab Mandi Board Act, 1961 the state can declare mandi yards for procurement — it has already declared 1,830 such yards. This time, ahead of paddy procurement, the government has declared rice shellers and mills as mandi yards, too, by making use of the same provisions under the Act. Officials said there will be around 4,000 mandi yards in the state for staggered paddy procurement in view of the Covid pandemic.
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