Police try to stop farmers during a protest demanding better price for their produce on the outskirts of New Delhi. (Image: Reuters)
The Centre on December 1 asked the farmers’ unions to identify specific issues related to three recently passed farm laws and come up with ‘clause-wise’ objections before the next scheduled meeting on December 3.
Representatives from 35 farmers’ unions had a meeting with Union Ministers Narendra Singh Tomar, Piyush Goyal, and Som Prakash which ended without a breakthrough.
The three farm laws: the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, enacted in September, were projected by the Narendra Modi government as long-overdue reforms in the agriculture sector.
However, the anger among farmers, particularly in Congress-ruled Punjab and neighbouring Haryana, has been simmering since the enactment.
Farmers and critics have called the new agri laws ‘anti-farmer’ alleging that the provisions will reduce crop prices for farmers. Among other concerns are that the laws will encourage hoarding and black marketing and lead to exploitation of the farmers. The laws have removed the assurance of Minimum Support Price (MSP) too, is one of the main grouses in the three laws.
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, or the FPTC Act
Though the farmers have expressed objection to all the three farm laws, there main problem, essentially, is about the FPTC Act and its provisions that, they fear, will weaken the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis.
Clauses in sections 3 and 4 of the Act give the farmer freedom to indulge in intra-state or inter-state trade in areas outside the APMC mandis. Section 6 prohibits the collection of any market fee or cess under any state APMC Act or any other state law with respect to trade outside the APMC market. Section 14 gives the Act an overriding effect over the inconsistent provisions of the State APMC laws. Section 17 empowers the Centre to frame rules for carrying out the provisions of the law.
Farmers fear the new rules would lead to inadequate demand for their produce in local markets. And, they said, transporting the produce outside mandis will not be possible because of lack of resources. This is precisely why they sell their produce at lesser than MSP prices in local markets.
Farmers are also angry with the clauses in Section 8 of the law that say that a farmer and trader can approach the Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) to arrive at a solution through conciliation proceedings. While farmers say they are not powerful enough to access the SDM offices for dispute redressals, critics say this is akin to usurpation of judicial powers.
The other two laws
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, seeks to create a legal framework for contract farming in India in its Sections 3-12.
The government says it liberates farmers by giving them choice to sell anywhere. The farmers say that it will lead to corporatisation of agriculture. Farmers fear this would mean the MSP will be removed. They say that the contract system will make small and marginal farmers vulnerable to exploitation from the big corporates unless the sale prices continue to be regulated as was being done before the new law came in.
Though exclusive agreements between companies and farmers are already operational in crops of particular processing grades, critics say the law does not prescribe any mechanism for price fixation, a concern raised by some experts. This, critics say, could give free hand to private players and lead to farmer exploitation.
The Essential Commodities Act (Amendment) Act, the third law, does away with the Centre’s powers to impose stockholding limit on food items, except under extraordinary circumstances. This, many say, would not impact farmers much.
The law, through amendments, has removed the commodities such as edible oil, onion, and potato from the list of essential commodities. Now, the government can regulate their supply or include these items back into the list only under “extraordinary circumstances” as per Section 1 (A) of the new law.
The proposed Electricity Amendment Bill.
Farmers from Punjab and Haryana are also angry with the proposed Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020. They say the amendment would reduce state’s role in the power sector, which will affect the subsidy distribution.
The Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020 seeks to propose amendments to the Electricity Act 2003 that governs the power sector structure and policy.