BJP MP Varun Gandhi, who has backed farmers publicly in their protests against the agricultural laws, has piloted a private members’ Bill seeking legal guarantee for MSP – one of the demands over which the farmers and the government are split. The Bill, which is awaiting admission, talks of 50% assured return for farmers on the comprehensive cost of production of a crop, and a Rs 1 lakh crore fund to compensate them in case they are forced to sell the produce below the MSP.
Currently, MSP is available on 22 agricultural commodities, apart from sugarcane for which the government promises a fair and remunerative price. The Bill envisages legally guaranteed MSP for the 22, with an annual financial outlay of Rs 1 lakh crore for it. It also proposes a separate department to implement the legal guarantee of MSP and six months’ imprisonment for traders who fail to comply.
Parliament last week passed a Bill repealing the three contentious farm laws, after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the same on November 19. The government, however, has opposed the farmers’ demand for legal guarantee for MSP.
Gandhi wrote to the PM a day after his announcement, saying many “innocent lives” could have been saved had the decision been taken earlier, and sought “strict action” against Union Minister of State for Home Ajay Kumar Mishra, whose son Ashish Mishra was arrested for the October 3 incident in Lakhimpur Kheri that led to the deaths of four farmers, the first BJP leader to do so. He also demanded Rs 1 crore compensation for families of each farmer who died during the protest.
Earlier, in October, hours Gandhi had condemned the incident in Lakhimpur Kheri, his name was left out of the BJP’s new National Executive committee. His mother Maneka Gandhi, too, was excluded.
The Bill piloted by Gandhi is called the Farmers Right to Guaranteed Minimum Support Price Realization of Agri-Produce Bill 2021, with the MP hoping that it will be a model to draft a law over MSP.
While any member of either House can submit a private member’s Bill, just over a dozen have cleared Parliament since 1952. The admissibility of a private Bill is decided by the Chairman (the Vice-President) in the case of the Rajya Sabha and the Speaker in the case of the Lok Sabha, and these Bills are taken up on Fridays.
Opposition parties such as the Congress have also backed the demand for legal guarantee for MSP.
Gandhi, who recently released a book which presented a “manifesto for rural India” by imagining the Indian village as an independent, self-sustainable socio-economic entity, wants the MSP to be calculated at a profit margin of 50% above a farmer’s comprehensive cost of production, including actual paid expenses on inputs, value of unpaid family labour, and foregone rentals on farmland and fixed agricultural assets. It was first recommended by the Swaminathan Committee in 2006.
“Any farmer realizing a price less than the above declared MSP price shall be entitled to compensation equal to the difference in value between the price realised and the guaranteed MSP,” the Bill by Gandhi says.
In its definition of a trader, the Bill extends the MSP to any sale, purchase outside existing agricultural mandis. It defines a trader as “any individual or body collective engaged in the direct purchase of agricultural commodity from the farmer for direct consumption or further selling of agricultural commodities, in same form or with value-addition, and includes but doesn’t remain limited to commission agents, purchasers, and arthiyas”.
Regarding payment of the MSP, the Bill says this should be timely and made directly to a bank account within two days of a transaction. In case the MSP price is not realised, says the Bill, the government must pay the difference in value between the sale price and the MSP within a week of the matter being reported.
Besides, the Bill proposes compensation in case of delayed payment.
The penal provisions proposed by the Bill for a trader, purchaser or commission agent who violates the law include payment of the total deficit suffered by a farmer, and possible imprisonment for up to six months, as well as cancellation of their licence.
It suggests a department under the Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare to implement the law, which could be headed by a decision-making body consisting of farmer representatives, public officials and experts in agricultural policy.
Gandhi argues that the proposed law would encourage farmers to pick the crop most suited to their area, thus helping crop diversification and reducing the environmental cost of agriculture.
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