Jinsy Ansa Jose
Associate Editor, Legit
THE PROTEST ON FARM BILLS
Farm bills introduced by central government obtained the President’s assent on 27th September. These farm bills include three major reformative Acts; Farmers’ Produce trade and Commerce (Promotion and facilitation) Act, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act. These bills intend to create new marketing opportunities and legal framework for the same. Farmers’ Produce trade and Commerce (Promotion and facilitation) Act, intend to open up a plethora of marketing opportunities outside the usual Agricultural Produce Committees. This novel creation can help farmers to create better pricing options as well as competition. On the contrary, the market will be opened to private players. Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on the Price Assurance Act, creates a new arena for contract farming. This can enable national level farming agreement for farming produces at a pre-agreed price. And Farm Services Act, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act remove cereals, pulses, edible oils and onions from the list of essential commodities. Hence, deregulating the restrictions imposed on these produces as a part of the Essential Commodities Act. Widespread protests emanated around Jaipur- Delhi Highways from farmers of Punjab, Haryana who resonates to nothing less than scrapping down these three legislations. Political parties as well as several farm organizations including Bhartiya Kisan Union, All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee are in the protest frontier (2020). This protest raises a few pertinent political and legal aspects to be discussed.
Federalism and Colourable legislation- The Constitution of India confers federalism as a part of basic structure doctrine. This was upheld in the case of S.R Bommai V Union of India (1994). The three lists enumerated in the constitution further plays a great role in upholding the federalism with clear distinctions with powers of State and Centre. Article 245 to 254 traces back to this federal structure. An intricate study of the three lists is necessary to verify the legislative competence of Farmers Bills. In consideration with the State List, Agriculture is presented in 8 entries. This includes Entry 14, where the state has right over agricultural education, research, pests and others; Entry 18 where exclusive rights in over land, land tenures, rent transfer of agricultural land and loans; Entries 28, 30, 45 and 46 relating to markets, fairs and taxes on agricultural income. Even though entries 82, 86, 87 and 88 of Union List include the terms taxes and duties on income and assets it particularly exempts agriculture from the group. The Concurrent List does not provide any entry including agriculture except for Entry 41 which deals with the evacuee properties even agricultural lands. Hence, it is clear that Agricultural matters are exclusive to State Legislatures and Union and Concurrent list restricts Centre from making legislations in this particular matter. Furthermore, no entries which is related to agriculture in State List is subject to any entry of Concurrent List or Union List. Centre, on the contrary, considers the laws are made under the entry “trade” of Union List. This action attracts the “Doctrine of Colourable legislation”. It is used as a tool to ascertain legislative competence. This doctrine implies and dictates as if a legislature is prevented from doing an act, it is also prohibited from indirectly doing the same act in the guise of other action. The presence of such a contrast proves that the law created is ultra-vires.
Right to livelihood- In a diverse country India, where agricultural practices of State varies even within one State, it is impossible to implement central legislation conclusively. The new farm bills allow agriculturists to enter into contract farming and allowing the farmer to sell their products to anyone of their choice. This can be ascertained as to the first step of removal of MSP (Minimum Support Price) and there is no mention of MSP in the bills (Behera, et al., 2020). Being an agrarian nation, it is pertinent to take into account the different farming communities. More than 82% of the farmers being marginal and small, cannot be expected to bargain or sustain in a private market (2018). Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 does not create any provisions for farmers to approach civil courts against breach of contract or violations. Rather all the power vests with the sub-Divisional Magistrates or District Magistrates. As under clause 18 of the Act, there is no action against any government officials if any actions taken in good faith. It is nearly impossible to prove the bad faith of the actions. These provisions can have blatant blow against small and marginal farmers as well as their livelihood. Hence, it is either “you get big or you go out”.
Privatization of Agri-sector imposes new threats to marginal and small sector farmers. The Agri-dollar dream can vouch for the future implications of the privatizations. In 1930, when Iowa lost the farms due to crisis, the government introduced price support on various basic crops. With the failure of this system, the government tried to galvanise the sector and introduced contract farming. Lack of proper fiscal speculation led to the financial crash and increased debts of agricultural families. And in the present US almost have $425 billion farm debt and farm income declining by 50%. Furthermore, the top four agribusiness corporations control almost 84% of US food supply (Singh, 2020). The speculation is not that the Farm Bills would indeed turn out into failure, but the lack of proper mechanism, control and poor knowledge on rural agribusiness can create a grave effect to the Indian economy.
Another alarming factor to be pertinently considered is the fact that the Farm Bills were created without thoroughly verifying the present conditions of farmers. There is no actual data or statistics to be provided by the government except for the agricultural census of 2015- 2016. The drawback of considering the data from this census is that over the period every census witness exponential growth in small or operational holdings and the reduction of the average size of these holdings are fluctuating on a yearly basis (Jawandhiya, 2020). This change is not reflected in the formulation of bills. The tussle between the centre and state government creates unwanted hassle to the implementation of these acts. The new Acts provides farmers with an option to market their produce outside APMCs, which would result in great revenue loss for the states. This is one of the major reasons for the disinterest of these acts to the State government. Furthermore, States have also implemented certain methods to curb the effects of these Act (Maliakan, 2020). Another factor is the pace of growth of agriculture in various states. Karnataka has electronic market integration; Madhya Pradesh came up with private single- licence yards and so on. Introduction of novel ideas to be implemented to certain states can curtail the overall growth once achieved.
India is in dire need of rejuvenation of the Agricultural Sector. Even being the sector which provides the maximum number of employees, it still dives in debts and misery. Diversification of produces, increasing incomes of farming households are to be considered with paramount importance. The Farm bills even though, introduced with the intent to usher the farmers’ lives and in turn boost the economy fail in certain aspects. The urgency of passing this law without acquiring proper public opinion or understanding the long-term ramifications, amid this pandemic remind us of a Machiavelli quote, “Never let a good crisis go waste”. Agricultural sustainability in India is regionally biased. Hence, its requisites specific as well an approach apt to the particular region. The central law suffers from this issue of lack of diversity necessary. The absence of a guaranteed price support mechanism and intervention of private players the crisis faced by the farmers accentuate. A well-versed economic strategy which can curb the inflation that may follow up the privatization needs to be formulated.
Behera, Dibakar, Sahoo, Jyoti Prakash and Samal, kaliash Chandra. 2020. Researchgate. [Online] October 2020. [Cited: December 15, 2020.] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/344508649_Impact_of_India's_New_Farm_Act_2020_on_Farmers_and_Markets/link/5f7d6dfda6fdccfd7b4ca7d1/download. 2018. fao.org. FAO in India. [Online] United Nations, 2018. [Cited: December 16, 2020.] http://www.fao.org/india/fao-in-india/india-at-a-glance/en/. Jawandhiya, Vijay. Dandekar, Ajay. 2020. The Wire. [Online] October 01, 2020. [Cited: December 15, 2020.] https://m.thewire.in/article/agriculture/farm-bills-indias-rural-issues/amp. Maliakan, Joseph. 2020. Indian Currents. [Online] November 02, 2020. [Cited: December 18, 2020.] https://www.indiancurrents.org/article-farm-bills-attack-on-federalism-and-livelihood-of-farmers-joseph-maliakan-110.php. Singh, Indra Shekhar. 2020. The Wire. [Online] September 25, 2020. [Cited: December 16, 2020.] https://thewire.in/agriculture/farm-bills-small-farmers-and-chasing-the-agri-dollar-dream. 2020. timesofindia.indiatimes.com. Times of India. [Online] September 20, 2020. [Cited: December 15, 2020.] https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/new-farm-bill-2020-who-is-protesting-why/articleshow/78179693.cms.
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Legit Originals: Volume 1, Issue 4(December 2020)
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