New Delhi: RJD MP Manoj Jha has moved the Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of the newly enacted agriculture laws, saying they are "discriminatory and manifestly arbitrary" and will expose marginal farmers to exploitation by big corporates.
Parliament had recently passed the three Bills — the Farmers' (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020. These came into effect from September 27 after President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent.
Jha, a Rajya Sabha member of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), has filed the plea in the top court through lawyer Fauzia Shakil. Besides Jha, Congress Lok Sabha member from Kerala TN Prathapan and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) Rajya Sabha member from Tamil Nadu Tiruchi Siva had moved the top court against the farm laws.
Jha, in his plea, said, "The impugned legislations corporatise agriculture and ushers in an unregulated and exploitative regime. A farmer would not have the knowledge to negotiate the best terms with a private company. This leads to unequal bargaining position in negotiating the farm agreement with corporates would lead to corporates monopolising the agriculture sector."
The plea said the laws have been passed by Parliament "in breach of the Parliamentary Rules and convention and the impugned acts are unconstitutional on the ground that it is discriminatory and manifestly arbitrary and further violates the Basic Structure of the Constitution."
These laws encourage "corporatisation" of Indian agriculture which is the lifeline of the poor farmers and key to the survival of the nation's agriculture sector, it said.
"The impugned Acts primarily intends to sacrifice the interest of the farmers and leave them at the mercy of the sponsors without any proper dispute resolution mechanism. The Acts provide for 'farming agreements' between the farmers (of whom 85% are marginal farmers owning up to 2 acres) and the Corporate entities," it said.
It is noteworthy that the farmers by way of these legislations are pitted against the corporates with disproportionate bargaining powers, the RJD leader said in the plea. The price determination mechanism under new laws is only through the agreements between the corporate entities and farmers and do not stipulate that the price should not be below the minimum selling price (MSP) and does not even guarantee the price given by the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC), it said.
Instead of the ensuring MSP, the laws intend to corporatise peasant agriculture and erode the existing legal safeguards that prevent direct invasion of rural agriculture market by the monopoly corporate forces, it said. The laws enable the sponsors to deprive the market committees of their market fee on transaction within the specified Market Yards under the State Mandi Laws, the plea said.
"The farmers currently have the freedom to sell their farm produce to anyone anywhere. The freedom however is not real but is bereft of any safety or guarantees, to protect them against the superior bargaining force of the buyers," the plea said. "The Acts have been passed in blatant breach of the principles of federal structure of Constitution as 'agriculture' is a state subject under Entry 14 of List II which does not grant competence to the central government to legislate on the issues relating to 'agriculture'. Only State Legislature have the legislative competence to pass laws dealing with the subject," it said.
As per the government, the new law intends to provide a national framework for the farming agreements to protect and empower farmers as they engage with agri-business and food processing firms, wholesalers, exporters and large retailers for farm services and sale of produce at a remunerative price framework in a fair and transparent manner.
Some parts of the country have been witnessing farmer protests on the issue in view of the alleged apprehension that the law would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the "mercy" of big companies.