FARM ACTS 2020: THREAT TO FARMERS
Author: Akshee Naruka, V year of B.Com., LL.B. (Hons.) from Amity Law School NOIDA
Reforms are important in a country as they provide an opportunity to restructure the economy to achieve long term objectives of economic development, employment, income distribution and improvement in achieving basic needs and amenities. The Parliament has recently passed three farms bills with the objective of reformation and benefit to the farmers and agricultural markets. But the farmers are not happy and satisfied with the Acts and are continuously protesting against them throughout the country especially in Punjab, Haryana and Delhi.
The following Acts have been passed
1. Farmers (Empowerment and protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020
The Act provides for contract farming. The buyer and the farmer can agree before the crops have been reared or produced. The minimum period for which such agreement can be entered into is one crop season or one production cycle of livestock and the maximum period could be five years. This can be extended mutually in case the production cycle is more than five years. The price to be paid shall be mentioned in the agreement itself.
2. Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020
The Act permits the farmers to make intra and inter-state sales of their products beyond the limits set by Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) markets. APMC refers to the marketing board established by various state governments so that the farmers can be protected from intermediaries which tend to pay extremely low prices for the produce. The whole produce is sold through auction. These ensure worthy prices and timely payment to the farmers. The Act additionally provides for online trading of agricultural produce which is scheduled under the APMC Act.
3. Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020
The Act was passed in 1955 to ensure the availability of certain essential goods in the market which if obstructed through black marketing would affect the normal life of people. With the amendment, the government will include certain produce as essential only in cases of war, natural calamities or extraordinary price rise. Various commodities have been deregulated including cereals, pulses, potato, onion and oils.
Loopholes in the Acts
Before going into detail the first and foremost issues are about jurisdiction. According to Entry 14 and 28 of List II Schedule 7 of the Indian Constitution, the Agriculture and Markets is a state subject on which only the State government can make laws. But the Central government has contended that trade and commerce in food items are subjects of the concurrent list and they are well within their powers. But any law directly affecting the intrastate trade is directly encroaching the State powers.
Secondly, we are living in a democracy and it is our utmost important right to participate in the discussion on subjects which are going to directly affect us. The farmers were not consulted before passing these laws. The government has hastily passed these bills despite strong opposition.
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020
The Act doesn’t mention Minimum Support Price (MSP). MSP is a guaranteed price fixed by the Government to protect farmers during bumper production years which is paid for the product in case of excessive price fall in the market. The farmers fear that they will be at the mercy of private players in case of non-existence of MSP. The bill assures that it tends to abolish APMC monopolies so that the farmers could sell their produce outside the markets. But even the current system allows farmers to sell to outsiders under exclusion clauses.
As the current amendment Act has an overriding effect on the APMC Act, the farmers fear that it may lead to the end of MSP and APMC. Although the government has ensured that these systems will remain intact there is nothing in black and white which could back their assurance.
Another issue is lack of sufficient capital, understanding of market forces and electronic and internet connectivity of the farmers which could coerce them to sell their products to private corporations at low prices.
The Farmers (Empowerment and protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020
It provides for a fixed price to be paid according to the agreement and in case of variations a guaranteed price to be paid to the farmers. But there is no mechanism prescribed for price fixation. The small and marginal farmers who constitute a major part of rural farmers are not equipped with enough resources and information to negotiate for fair prices from private players. In APMC the farmers have the power of collective bargaining which is not possible when individual small farmers are dealing directly with huge corporations. This could lead to the exploitation of farmers in the hands of private corporations which may result in legal battles with deprived resources.
The three-tier dispute settlement mechanism: conciliation board, sub-divisional magistrate and collector as appellate authority effectively removes such contracts from the ambit of civil courts and judicial reviews which increases the problems of farmers.
The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020
As the Act has eased the stock limits there is a fear among the farmers that it could lead to hoarding and black marketing of goods during harvest season when prices are low until the prices tend to increase. It allows companies to stock items except in circumstances of war, natural calamities and extraordinary increase in prices. There has been enormous ambiguity in the Act which is the result of failed legislative drafting.
The farmers from Punjab, Haryana and UP have been protesting against these laws from many months now. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic and bone-chilling cold in Delhi, their protests are undeterred. Initially, they started protesting in their villages but later as the cases against them increased under Section 144 Code of Criminal Procedure, the protests amplified at huge levels. Many rounds of talks have taken place between the Government and the farmers but no effort has been seen from the side of the government to sincerely listen to the problems of farmers and to come to a proper remedy. The farmers’ are also not taking a step back and their only demand is to repeal these laws as according to them they pose a major threat on their future livelihood. The provisions of the Acts are ambiguous relating to MSP which is the most important factor for people in Punjab. It provides them with the assurance of payment in case of fall in demand or any other adverse conditions.
As many as 60 lives have been lost during these protests. Most of the farmers are the only bread earners of their families. They are sacrificing their lives for the agrarian community. A farmer and an advocate also died by suicide and held the government responsible in their suicide note.
The farmers are getting support even from outside India. Some 35 countries and the European Union have declared financial support schemes for farmers to face the COVID-19 pandemic. The politicians and various artists and actors have been in open support of these farmers. The government should adopt a sensitive attitude towards the sentiments of the people who provide food to the whole of India.
My Thoughts on the Protest
Every citizen of a democratic country has a right to dissent from government actions and policies. We have the right to freedom of expression under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. It includes the right to criticise and protest. The Supreme Court has also said that it is completely constitutional of farmers to continue their protests. The court has asked the government to withhold the implementation of these laws. The government should have been more generous towards the issues, demands, and doubts of farmers because they have a great role to play in the nation-building process. But what the ministers are doing is the opposite. They are politicising the issue totally and blaming it on the opposite political parties. The farmers are fully mature people and know well about their rights. Rather than playing the blame game they should have gone to the core of the issue and cleared the apprehension of the farmers regarding the laws. The protests are termed as a state-specific protest by the government but farmers from all over India are unhappy with the new laws.
Media has a great role to play in the current situation. Through the media more support could be gained for the farmers. But they are also acting as spokespersons of the government and supporting these laws proudly and loudly. This is not the correct trend for free and fair media.
Not only the farmers were stopped by the police officials while entering Delhi last year but they were also termed as anti-nationals, tukde tukde gang, etc. This is not how the government treats the ‘Annadatas’ of a country. There was no need to act in haste during a time when the country is already dealing with a pandemic when people are suffering and losing their lives. The fact that there is no provision however relating to MSP in the recent farm Acts and by the global experience across agricultural markets demonstrates that without any security of payment the farmers are likely to be exploited by the hands of big businesses. And in the case of exploitation, they cannot even approach the civil courts as their jurisdiction is expressly excluded.
The need of the hour is that the government should stay the implementation of these laws and take in consideration the demands of the farmers. As the government of a democratic country, it is their utmost duty to respect the will of the citizens. They should give due consideration to their demands and must try to provide some effective remedy to assure them the protection of their interests.