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Sunday, October 25, 2020

Anti-farmer, pro-corporate

Farm bills contravene the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Peasants and infringe on fundamental rights of agriculturists.

Updated: October 18, 2020 7:45:47 pm
farm bills, farm laws, farmer protests, farmer protests Punjab, Punjab farmer protests, farmer protests survey, India news, Indian ExpressFarmers protest against the legislations (File)

By Varun Verma

On September 24, President Ram Nath Kovind gave assent to the three Bills passed by the Parliament: The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 (FAPAFS), Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 (FPTC) and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 (EC).

The FAPAFS act binds farmers with agricultural corporates in a legally enforceable agreement to trade agricultural produce. The FPTC act provides for inter-state and intra-state trade of farmers agricultural produce beyond the physical premises of state regulated Agricultural Produce Market Committee Yard (APMC) and it restrains states from levying market fees outside the APMC areas. The EC act allows the Central government to regulate the supply of few food items under extraordinary circumstances.

India, being a member at UN Human Rights Council, had voted in favour of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDRPOWRA). The FAPAFS and FPTC infringes upon farmers’ human rights and their fundamental rights. These pieces of legislation contravene numerous articles of the UNDRPOWRA. Section 7 of the FAPAFS act contravenes Article 2 (5) of the UNDRPOWRA which protects farmers interest against exploitation by corporates.

Since these pieces of farming legislation do not have much by way of providing adequate storage and transportation facilities to farmers, they, therefore, violate Article 16 (2) of UNDRPOWRA which obliges the Centre to provide adequate transportation and storage facilities to facilitate farmers to trade conveniently. The whole objective of the FPTC act read with Section 7 of FAPAFS act deregulates the functioning of APMC markets and, in turn, makes it difficult for farmers to trade efficiently. In doing so, they contravene Article 16 (3) of UNDRPOWRA which vests responsibility over the Central government to strengthen the local and regional markets for farmers facilitation to trade.

No mention of minimum support prices (MSPs) in these farming legislations has created a doubt over efficient trading of agricultural produce between the farmers and corporates especially because MSP ensures stable agricultural produce prices. The absence of MSP in farming agreements will provide an opportunity to corporates to exploit farmers by offering them the lowest prices for agriculture produce. This will violate the farmers right to be treated equally and with dignity as enshrined under Article 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution.

The pieces of legislations can be challenged on the grounds of violating fundamental rights before the Supreme court (SC) under Article 32 by the aggrieved farmers. A declaration suit could also be filed by states challenging the constitutionality of these Acts under Article 131 – such a suit was held valid by the apex court in State of Jharkhand vs. State of Bihar and Another in 2014.

The writer is a Delhi-based lawyer

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