Author:- Vrinda Bhandarkar, BBA.LLB, 4th Year, SDM Law College, Mangalore
In the present time of abundant disarray of the legislative and social fabric of the country, the three farm bills on agriculture reforms namely The Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce ( Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, The Farmer’s (Empowerment and Protection Bill) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill and The Essential Commodities ( Amendment) Bill have been a subject of great chaos across the nation. Consequently, division of perspectives, political undertones and unbridled distortion by the media has aggravated the complexity surrounding the Bills to a tremendous extent while concealing the true information and the probable impact of the Bills. In order to illuminate the intricacies and decipher the enigma surrounding the Farm Bills, the present article seeks to undertake a critical analysis based on a plethora of credible secondary data. In this pursuit, an attempt has been made to shed some light on the perspective of the parties that stand to be affected by the reforms brought about by the much debated Farm Bills.
The precarious circumstances surrounding the Farm Bills inevitably necessitate an impartial view of the pros and cons through the prism of future implications. Upon comprehending the key reforms brought in by the Farm Bills, the following emerge as some of the most prominent changes:
- The Bills seek to curb the rampant exploitation of farmers by middlemen. The APMCs which were established under The Agricultural Produce Market Committee Act, 1961 proved to be redundant and ineffective in ensuring the protection and promotion of farmers. Consequently, the inevitable need for the introduction of the present farm bills has arisen.
- Wider reach and liberty to sell anywhere has been ensured through barrier free inter-state and intra-state trade in addition to facilitating electronic trading of produce. It will also provide for undertaking trade and commerce outside the physical limits of the markets as notified by the respective State Agricultural Produce Marketing legislations.
- Removal of several items from the list of essential commodities under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 (Amendment Bill, 2020) including inter alia potatoes, pulses and cereals. Therefore, the Government shall not impose any hoarding limits on companies and supermarkets, unless, in case of dire circumstances such as famine or war or in the event of such hoarding resulting in 100 percent increase in prices of perishable goods or 50 percent increase in the price of non- perishable goods.
- Facilitates farmers to engage in business transactions with companies by way of comprehensive written contracts in order to ensure protection of the interests of such farmers. Moreover, a dispute resolution mechanism has been established contractually by forming conciliation boards consisting of representatives of both the parties. In the event failure to include such provision in the contract, the matter shall be decided by the competent sub-divisional Magistrate. Additionally, the element of ‘force majeure’ to extend protection in the times of inter alia natural disasters or pandemics has been brought to the fore.
CONUNDRUM AND CONTROVERSIES
While the Bills were introduced with a promise of hopeful future horizons for the agricultural sector through inter alia liberalisation of regulatory framework, infusion of electronic trading and barter free inter-state and intra-state trade, the Bills have attracted great skepticism and opposition due to several reasons including:
- The skepticism and distrust in the Farm Bills arises mainly on account of lack of participative decision making without due consideration of the opinions of different parties who are interested in the agricultural reforms and their impact.
- Federalism is considered to be the basic structure of Indian Constitution. However, the operation of the Indian polity is largely considered quasi-federal which would be both unitary as well as federal based on the changing time and circumstances as has been pertinently opined by Dr. B.R.Ambedkar. As agriculture and markets fall within the ambit of State List under Entry 14 and 28 respectively, the laws made by the Centre have been considered as an infringement of the co-operative federalism enshrined in the Indian Constitution.
- The Bills seek to redress the lacunae by establishing a parallel system of free trade alongside the existing system of APMC Mandis. But, the true panacea and harbinger of security to farmers i.e. Minimum Support Price (MSP) has been devoid of any statutory backing and is not imposed as a lower limit for purchases outside the Mandis. Thus, the major concern in this regard is that the present laws will merely shift the concentration of power from the hands of middlemen and Mandi cartels to astute corporations making the plight of the farmers even worse.
- The concept of contract farming that has been introduced has a higher probability of exploitation in the light of the present scenario. A Government study of 2015 claimed that while the illiteracy rates in rural areas is 32 percent, it claimed that illiteracy among farmers may be much higher. Comprehension and cutting edge negotiations while dealing with canny corporations in matters relating to formation and performance of contracts is extremely difficult for farmers and even seeking legal recourse may turn out to be expensive.
Therefore, it is evident that the Bills are intended to extend greater protection to the farmers and provide greater thrust to the agricultural sector. However, the gravity of ramifications that can befall the agricultural sector as well as the holistic development of the country in the event of failure of the reforms is also worth taking into consideration. In this regard, much greater emphasis on participative decision making is the need of the hour as the interested parties are usually in a better position to understand the intricacies of their own specialized fields and can therefore, contribute valuably to bring about a commendable paradigm shift by doing away with the existent lacunae.
Disclaimer: Views and opinions as expressed in the Research Articles are solely of the author and any member of the core team of the website shall not be liable for the same.
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