The Centre on Monday introduced three bill in Lok Sabha on farm sector with Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar asserting that they will help farmers get a remunerative price for their produce as well as private investments and technology.
Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar introduced The Farmers' Produce Trade And Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Bill, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, which will replace ordinances promulgated by the government earlier. He said the proposed laws will enable barrier-free trade in agricultural produce, and also empower farmers to engage with investors of their choice.
The minister said that these steps are only the latest in a series of measures taken by the government as part of its continuous commitment to championing the cause of welfare of the farmers of India.
Tomar said that almost 86 per cent of farmers have agricultural land of less than two hectares and they are often unable to benefit from minimum support price (MSPs). He, however, assured the House that the MSP will stay.
The Congress and other parties have been opposing the legislations, alleging it will undermine the safety net provided to the farmers by the MSP system and will lead to their exploitation by big companies. Tomar said the bill will help the farmers as they are unable to invest much in their farm and do not attract investments from others.
He also rejected the criticism that it was beyond the remit of the union government to legislate on these issues, saying opposition members should trust the Centre. The Opposition has alleged that the Centre brought in the legislations without consulting the states under whose domain 'agriculture' and 'mandis' come.
The minister asked the opposition members to study the content of the bills deeply before "running to oppose them". He stressed that farmers will get a lot of benefit from these laws as they can enter into an agreement with private traders for selling their produce.
These agreements will be about the produce and not the farmland, he asserted, rebutting suggestions that farmers may lose ownership of their land. Opposing the bills, the leader of the Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said constitutional provisions are very clear that agriculture is a subject on the State List.
"Such a law can only be brought by state governments…. Through this bill, the centre will nullify Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) law enacted by various state governments," Chowdhury said. The central government is not competent to make such a law, he asserted, adding,"This is a case of legislative overreach and a direct attack on the federal structure of the Constitution." Chowdhury pointed out that farmers of Punjab and Haryana are protesting against these bills. TMC member Saugata Roy claimed that farming will move into the hands of capitalists due to these legislations.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said the bill violates the basic tenets of federalism enshrined in India's Constitution. "It is beyond the legislative competence of this house to enact any law on agriculture, which is a domain of the state governments," Tharoor said The bill endangers the right to food of the countrymen, he added.
The Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020, bars state governments from imposing taxes on sale and purchase of farm produce undertaken outside the mandis and give farmers the freedom to sell their produce at remunerative prices. Besides, any conflicts arising from the transactions will be dealt with exclusively by the Sub Division Magistrate (SDM) and District Collectorate within 30 days and not in the jurisdiction of civil courts.
At present, farmers are allowed to sell their agriculture produce at 6,900-odd APMC (Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees) mandis spread across the nation. There are restrictions for farmers in selling agri-produce outside the mandis. The ordinances were promulgated on June 5, 2020. However, the Union Agriculture Ministry notified them on July 20.