NEW DELHI: The Centre on Monday introduced three bills in the Lok Sabha on the farm sector asserting the Minimum Support Price(MSP) for agriculture produce is here to stay as farmers in Punjab continued their protests against the proposed laws.
"I want to assure on behalf of the government that MSP was there, is there, and will continue to be there," Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar told the lower house on the first day of the Monsoon session of Parliament amid opposition by the Congress and other non-BJP parties against the legislations.
Tomar introduced 'The Farmers' Produce Trade And Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Bill' and 'The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill', while Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution Raosaheb Danve introduced 'The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill'.
The bills seek to replace the ordinances promulgated by the government earlier.
The opposition parties have alleged that the new laws will undermine the safety net provided to the farmers by the MSP system and will lead to their exploitation by big companies.
"This is a case of legislative overreach and a direct attack on the federal structure of the Constitution," Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said while opposing the bills.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter to allege the ordinances were a "deadly attack" on farmers and agricultural labourers.
"The three 'black' ordinances of the Modi government are a deadly attack on farmers-agricultural labourers so that they do not get MSP and are also forced to sell their land to capitalists," the former Congress chief said.
Farmers in Punjab blocked several roads including the Amritsar-Delhi national highway and held agitations in different parts of the state to protest the farm ordinances.
While different farmers' outfits raised slogans against the Centre for bringing the "anti-farmer" ordinances and demanded their rollback, commuters faced inconvenience due to the road blockade as authorities diverted traffic through other roads.
A group of farmers from Uttar Pradesh marched to the national capital to protest against the ordinances but they were stopped at the Delhi-UP border, police said.
A senior police officer said the farmers, affiliated to the Bharatiya Kisan Union, were headed to the Jantar Mantar, but were stopped at the NH-24 near the Ghazipur border, and were asked to send their representatives who would talk to the authorities.
The rest of the group has been told to wait at the border, he said.
In the Lok Sabha, Tomar said the proposed legislations will help farmers get a remunerative price for their produce as well as private investments and technology.
The new laws will enable barrier-free trade in agricultural produce, and also empower farmers to engage with investors of their choice, he added.
The minister said these steps are only the latest in a series of measures taken by the government as part of its continuous commitment to championing the cause of welfare of the farmers of India.
Tomar said that almost 86 per cent of farmers have agricultural land of less than two hectares and they are often unable to benefit from the MSP.
Participating in the debate in the Lok Sabha, members of the Congress and the Trinamool Congress(TMC) claimed that the legislations will only benefit capitalists, and accused the Centre of attacking the federal structure of the Constitution.
Tomar said the bill will help the farmers as they are unable to invest much in their farm and do not attract investments from others.
He also rejected the criticism that it was beyond the remit of the union government to legislate on these issues, saying opposition members should trust the Centre.
The Opposition has alleged that the Centre brought in the legislations without consulting the states under whose domain 'agriculture' and 'mandis' fall.
Tomar asked the opposition members to study the content of the bills deeply before "running to oppose them".
He stressed that farmers will get a lot of benefit from these laws as they can enter into an agreement with private traders for selling their produce.
These agreements will be about the produce and not the farmland, he asserted, rebutting suggestions that farmers may lose ownership of their land.
Opposing the bills, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said constitutional provisions are very clear that agriculture is a subject on the State List.
"Such a law can only be brought by state governments. Through this bill, the centre will nullify Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) law enacted by various state governments," he said.
"The central government is not competent to make such a law."
Chowdhury also pointed out that farmers of Punjab and Haryana are protesting against these bills.
TMC member Saugata Roy claimed that farming will move into the hands of capitalists due to these legislations.
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor said the bill violates the basic tenets of federalism enshrined in India's Constitution.
"It is beyond the legislative competence of this house to enact any law on agriculture, which is a domain of the state governments," Tharoor said The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 seeks to increase competition in the agriculture sector and enhance farmers' income.
It aims to liberalise the regulatory system while protecting the interests of consumers.
"Removing fully the stock limit of farm produce and edible items like fruits and vegetables will be damaging for farmers. This will lead to black marketing and only a few entrepreneurs will benefit," Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said.
"I oppose the way the bill has been presented," he said.
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill provides a framework for the protection and empowerment of farmers with reference to the sale and purchase of farm products.
The Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020, bars state governments from imposing taxes on sale and purchase of farm produce undertaken outside the mandis and give farmers the freedom to sell their produce at remunerative prices.
Besides, any conflicts arising from the transactions will be dealt with exclusively by the Sub Division Magistrate (SDM) and District Collectorate within 30 days and not in the jurisdiction of civil courts.
At present, farmers are allowed to sell their agriculture produce at 6,900-odd APMC (Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees) mandis spread across the nation.
There are restrictions for farmers in selling agri-produce outside the mandis.
The ordinances were promulgated on June 5, 2020.
However, the Union Agriculture Ministry notified them on July 20.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh asserted that his government had been consistently opposing the "so-called reforms" brought in by the ordinances.
In a statement, he said that at no point did Punjab endorse any such move, contrary to what was being projected by the central government.
In Haryana, former chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda said the three agricultural ordinances will completely destroy the farmers who are facing all-round losses which have been made worse by "government apathy".
Also, the three-member committee of BJP MPs from the state submitted a report after having a dialogue with farmers and seeking their feedback on the three-farm related ordinances.
"The committee constituted to take feedback of farmers on three farm-related ordinances submitted their report to me," State BJP chief Om Prakash Dhankar tweeted.
Dhankar told reporters that he along with State Agriculture Minister J P Dalal, the three MPs who were part of the panel besides farmers' representatives will meet Tomar in Delhi on Tuesday.