The Supreme Court on Monday sought response from the Centre on various petitions challenging the validity of various provisions of the controversial new farm laws passed by Parliament last month. The three new laws that have been challenged are — The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
A Bench led by Chief Justice SA Bobde gave six weeks to the government on petitions moved by RJD lawmaker from Rajya Sabha Manoj Jha and DMK Rajya Sabha MP from Tamil Nadu Tiruchi Siva, and one by Rakesh Vaishnav of Chhattisgarh Kisan Congress. It also requested Attorney General KK Venugopal to assist court in the case as “this issue is bound to arise somewhere or other.”
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act The 2020 Act, which allowed contract farming, aims at providing for a national framework on farming agreements that protects and empowers farmers to engage with agri-business and food processing firms, wholesalers, exporters or large retailers for farm services and sale of produce at a remunerative price framework in a fair and transparent manner, according to the Modi-led government.
While the government said the new system will give farmers independence, as they will now have more options and opportunities to sell their produce, Siva alleged that the laws infringed upon the jurisdiction of state governments as the Constitution had put most agriculture-related subjects in the States’ domain. Besides, the new laws take away existing safeguards available to farmers by dismantling the minimum support price regime, counsel K Parmeshwar said.
Another petition had termed the laws as unconstitutional, anti-farmer and one that left farmers vulnerable to “corporate greed of multinational companies.” The petitions alleged that these laws would dismantle the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) system intended to ensure fair prices for farm products.
The Congress MP said the law was passed hastily without having an adequate discussion and a bare reading of its provisions would reveal that it was not a progressive piece of legislation. “In fact, the implementation of the Act in its current form will spell disaster for the farming community by opening a parallel market which is unregulated and gives enough room for exploitation of the farmers,” according to another petition. “Without Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) acting as a protective shield around the farmers, the market would ultimately fall to the corporate greed of multinational companies who are more profit-oriented and have no care for the condition…of the poverty-stricken farmers,” the petition stated.
The MP claimed the inherent weakness of the agriculture sector cannot be addressed by way of monetisation of the farmers’ produce to increase their income. Instead, strengthening the existing APMC system by infusing more capital and effective management of the minimum support price (MSP) was the need of the hour, he claimed.
Instead of the ensuring MSP, the laws intend to corporatise peasant agriculture and erode the existing legal safeguards that prevent direct invasion of rural agriculture market by the monopoly corporate forces, it said.
Jha alleged that “the impugned legislations corporatise agriculture and ushers in an unregulated and exploitative regime. A farmer would not have the knowledge to negotiate the best terms with a private company.
“This leads to unequal bargaining position in negotiating the farm agreement with corporates would lead to corporates monopolising the agriculture sector.”