Parliamentary Panel Slams Pawar Over Agricultural Bio-Security Bill
By U Anand Kumar - NEW DELHI
Published: 19th Jan 2014 10:47:59 AM
Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, the NCP chief, may boast of his contribution to the nation’s agriculture sector, but a parliamentary standing committee, headed by senior CPM leader Basudeb Acharia, thinks otherwise.
The parliamentary standing committee on agriculture found fault with Pawar, the Maratha strongman, for introducing the Agricultural Bio-security Bill in Parliament without prior consultation with state governments.
In its report presented to Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar earlier this month, the standing committee pointed out that there was no prior consultation with the states on the proposed legislation in spite of the fact that agriculture is a state subject and states are the implementing agencies.
It is not the first time UPA ministers find themselves on the wrong side of the parliamentary panel’s opinion on their performance. More than a dozen standing committee reports in the past have hauled up UPA ministers for drawing weak Bills and for lack of a thorough consultative process while drafting historic pieces of legislation having a wide-ranging impact.
Sharad Pawar had introduced the Bill in the Lok Sabha in March last year that provides for setting up an authority for prevention, control, eradication and management of pests and diseases of plants and animals. The Bill was referred to the standing committee.
On being queried by the Committee whether any Central Act be formulated without prior consultation with the states on an exclusively state subject, the secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture admitted, “There should be consultation. But this subject is not exclusively a state subject. This is not agriculture. This is agricultural bio-security which is not exclusively a state subject. But, none the less I concede your point that we should consult the states.”
The Committee has invited views of state governments, experts and stakeholders and most of the suggestions received from them have been agreed to by the government. “The Committee feels that there should be wider consultations with all relevant stakeholders by the government before introduction of Bills in Parliament, particularly, when the subject-matter of the Bill falls under the jurisdiction of states,” it observed.
Pointing out that setting up of the Agricultural Bio-security Authority was first mooted by the National Commission of Farmers in their report of 2005, the committee pulled up the Ministry for taking more than seven years to come up with the legislation for the purpose.
The Agricultural Bio-Security Bill, 2013, seeks to bring together plant, animal and marine protection and quarantine set-ups under a high-powered body, the Agricultural Bio-security Authority of India, with adequate powers. The Bill also provides for appointment of three members to the Authority by the Central government by rotation in the alphabetical order to represent the states and the Union Territories.
During the consultation process, states demanded more representation in the proposed Agricultural Bio-security Authority. However, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu suggested that instead of appointing three members on rotational basis, the Centre may consider appointing at least one member from each state/Union Territory permanently or at least one member from the concerned state may be appointed whenever the bio-security issue arises, pertinent to the state.
This will ensure more realistic area specific approach in handling biosecurity issues. The standing committee agreed with the ministry’s view that inclusion of one member from each state/Union Territory may render the size of the Authority unmanageable. They, however, feel that there should be proper and balanced representation of states in the Authority. The Committee recommended there should be at least one representative from each group of states from different regions of the country.
The Committee further recommended that there should be an enabling provision in the legislation to co-opt a member from the concerned state(s), if and when there is an outbreak of pest or disease of plant or animal in the state(s).
The Sunday Standard