Centre, opposition lock horns over agriculture reform bills

The new bills do away with the APMCs and Essential Commodities Act

PTI14-09-2020_000149B Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar at Parliament House on the opening day of Monsoon Session, in New Delhi | PTI

Amid protests from the farmer bodies, and certain political parties, the Union government introduced three bills replacing the three ordinances for the agricultural sector, in Lok Sabha, on Monday. These ordinances were brought in by the Modi government during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The first day of Parliament was an eventful one, as proceedings were held keeping social distancing in mind. All the 359 MPs who attended the first day proceedings, were tested before the start of the session, of which 17 Lok Sabha members were tested positive. On the first day, the Lok Sabha passed two Ayush ministry bills—The National Commission for Homoeopathy Bill, 2019, and The National Commission for Indian System of Medicine Bill, 2019.  The government also introduced Banking Regulation Amendment Bill, Assisted Reproductive Technology Regulation Bill, in Lok Sabha.

The bills, which are expected to generate much heat are the agriculture reform bills. The new bills do away with the APMCs and Essential Commodities Act, and instead replace them with fresh terminology.

Union Minister of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare, Narendra Singh Tomar, introduced The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, and The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, while Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food & Public Distribution, Raosaheb Patil Danve, introduced The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, in the Lok Sabha.

Tomar said the bills will enable barrier-free trade in agricultural produce, and also empower farmers to engage with investors of their choice.

The Congress and other parties are opposing the bills saying such a move will not be in the interests of the farmers as they will kill the protective provisions in the APMC Act, and minimum support price. The farmer bodies are agitating saying that the changes will benefit the big corporates, and farmers will lose in the long run.

The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, seeks to provide for the creation of an ecosystem where the farmers and traders enjoy the freedom of choice relating to sale and purchase of farmers' produce. This seeks to facilitate remunerative prices through competitive alternative trading channels to promote efficient, transparent and barrier-free inter-State and intra-State trade and commerce of farmers' produce outside physical premises of markets.

This bill will replace the APMC Act under which farmers could sell their agri-produce in the notified APMC market yards. The farmers were also restricted to sell the produce only to registered licensees of the state governments.

“This legislation is a historic-step in unlocking the vastly regulated agriculture markets in the country. It will open more choices for the farmer, reduce marketing costs for the farmers and help them in getting better prices. It will also help farmers of regions with surplus produce to get better prices and consumers of regions with shortages, lower price,” the government statement said.

Another key bill is the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which seeks to remove commodities like cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes from the list of essential commodities. “This will remove fears of private investors of excessive regulatory interference in their business operations. The freedom to produce, hold, move, distribute and supply will lead to harnessing of economies of scale and attract private sector/foreign direct investment into agriculture sector,” the government said.

To help the private sector to go into the agriculture sector, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, seeks to provide for a national framework on farming agreements that protects and empowers farmers to engage with agri-business firms, processors, large retailers for farm services and sale of future farming produce at a mutually agreed remunerative price framework in a fair and transparent manner.

This legislation aims to transfer the risk of market unpredictability from the farmer to the sponsor and also enable the farmer to access modern technology and better inputs. It also aims to reduce the cost of marketing and improve income of farmers.


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