CHENNAI: Agriculture Minister R Doraikannu on Friday said that the three farmer-related bills passed by the Centre would not affect farmers of Tamil Nadu in any way, but only benefit them. He also charged that the opposition are raising a hue and cry only to gain political mileage as the elections are round the corner. Doraikannu added, with Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami himself being a farmer, he would not allow anything that causes harm to the farmers.
Agriculture Secretary Gagandeep Singh Bedi, who was also present at the press meet, clarified that the contract farming system, wherein farmers could enter into agreements with companies to ensure fairer prices, was purely a voluntary scheme. Those who do not want it could continue with the existing means for selling their produces.
There are three options for the State’s farmers to currently sell their products – regulatory markets, outside the regulated markets, and Direct Procurement Centres (DPC). Bedi recalled that TN was the first State in the country to introduce a contract farming system last year. The President of India had given his assent to the legislation in October last, he added.
The Centre’s Bill – Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020 – have many clauses of the 2019 TN legislation (Tamil Nadu Agricultural Produce and Livestock Contract Farming and Services (Promotion and Facilitation) Act), he said. “We are proud that the Central government has emulated the State government’s policy in contract farming. As such, the interests of the State’s farmers would be protected by the Central law,” Bedi added.
In order to avoid instances of small farmers being cheated by companies, Bedi said, farmer producer organisations could sign the agreement on behalf of the farmers, as a collective effort. According to the Act, legal action could be taken against the company which violates the agreement. But, can small and marginal farmers fight hefty corporates on instances of violation of agreement? “Contract farming is a voluntary scheme -- farmers can either choose it or reject it.
If they don’t want to enter into an agreement with companies, they are free to sell their products through the existing methods. But in reality, if the farmers enter into an agreement, there is a channel for him to represent his case and get justice,” said Bedi. He added that one added advantage to TN’s farmers is that the government has been establishing food parks across the State, and farmers can put enhanced rates for their products there. Responding to a question on Minimum Support Price, he said it would be protected under the Central law, and that it would be mentioned when the rules for enforcing the legislation are framed.
The secretary also elaborated on commission agents, and said that there was no provision for their existence inside TN’s regulated markets. Only one per cent of the market fee was being collected from traders, inside regulated markets and in notified market areas, as against the three per cent fee collected in other states for crops like rice and wheat, said Bedi. Moreover, a 2.5 per cent commission agent charge is being collected in those states, besides a three per cent Rural Development Cess, he added.
Contract Farming Act
Under the Act, a farmer could sign an agreement with a company to buy his farm products during the harvest season, at an agreed price. Even if the prices fall at the time of procurement, the company has to pay the amount that was already fixed in the agreement. In the case of prices going up during procurement, the company has to give a share of the hike. “So, both ways, the farmers’ interests are safeguarded,” said Gagandeep Singh Bedi.