What are Farm Bills 2020 and why farmers are concerned?

Updated: 29 September, 2020 08:55 IST | mid-day online correspondent | New Delhi

The three bills are The Farmers' Produce Trade And Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Bill, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill

Farmers stage a protest at the Delhi-Noida border over farm bills, in New Delhi. PIC/PTI
Farmers stage a protest at the Delhi-Noida border over farm bills, in New Delhi. PIC/PTI

Farmers across India have taken to streets to protest against the three farm reform bills passed by the Parliament in the monsoon session amid protests by opposition parties and signed by President Ram Nath Kovind.

The three bills are The Farmers’ Produce Trade And Commerce (Promotion And Facilitation) Bill, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill.

In protest against the bills, Union Food Processing Industries Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MP, resigned from the Union Cabinet. SAD has been one of the oldest allies of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Following Harsimrat’s resignation, the SAD also pulled out of the BJP-led NDA alliance on Saturday because of the Centre's stubborn refusal to give statutory legislative guarantees to protect the assured marketing of farmers' crops at minimum support price (MSP), thus snapping a three-decade-old alliance with the saffron party.

The President gave his assent to the three contentious agricultural Bills. The President signed the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, and The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, into law on September 24 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill on September 26.

The Law Ministry has also notified all the three Bills which are now laws.

Many opposition parties, including the Congress and SAD, urged the President not to sign the bills. Since Friday, India has been witnessing nationwide protests by farmers over the Bills with Punjab and Haryana also witnessing rail and road blockades. The farmers are saying that these farm reforms would pave a way for the dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the “mercy” of big companies.

What are the three bills?

  1. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, seeks to give freedom to farmers to sell their produce outside the notified APMC market yards (mandis). The government says this is aimed at facilitating remunerative prices through competitive alternative trading channels.
  2. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, seeks to give farmers the right to enter into a contract with agribusiness firms, processors, wholesalers, exporters, or large retailers for the sale of future farming produce at a pre-agreed price.
  3. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, seeks to remove commodities like cereals, pulses, oilseeds, onion, and potato from the list of essential commodities and will do away with the imposition of stock holding limits.

The government hopes that the new laws will provide farmers with more choice, with competition leading to better prices, as well as ushering in a surge of private investment in agricultural marketing, processing and infrastructure.

Why are farmers worried?

  • 31 farmers’ organisations, which have different ideologies and leanings, are collectively fighting against these Bills. Their concerns are mainly about sections relating to 'trade area', 'trader', 'dispute resolution' and 'market fee' in the first bill.
  • Mandis bring in revenue for state government and these laws will reduce their relevance.
  • There is hardly any regulation outside the mandis and no grievance redressal mechanism yet.
  • Farmers are worried that this will end minimum support prices regime and even the middlemen will be affected.
  • Farmers will have the freedom to choose where they want to sell their produce but concerns are about the lack of bargaining power with big companies.

What Prime Minister Narendra Modi said?

Hailing the contribution of Indian farmers in Atmanirbhar Bharat initiative, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday said that they would benefit too from the new agriculture-related Bills once these become laws.

He pointed out that growers had benefited after fruits and vegetables were taken off the ambit of the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee Act in 2014 and now other farmers would benefit too.

They would be able to send their produce wherever they want and also get good price, the Prime Minister added while addressing the nation in the 69th edition of his monthly radio address 'Mann Ki Baat'.

Earlier, farmers could not sell their produce because of strict laws wherein they were challaned for selling their farm produce outside APMCs.

He also referred to farmers in Haryana, Gujarat and other states for doing well or themselves.

What Maharashtra did?

The Maharashtra government had implemented the contentious farm Ordinances way back in August - even before the bills on it were passed by Parliament last week.

In a notification on August 10, issued by Director of Marketing, Satish Soni, all the Agriculture Produce & Livestock Market Committees (APMCs) and District Agriculture Cooperatives were ordered to "strictly implement" the three Ordinances on the proposed laws, in the state.

Despite the MVA allies Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party-Congress strongly opposing the new laws, the state government had gone ahead even before the Centre issued any rules, guidelines or framework on these Ordinances and six weeks before the bills were cleared by Parliament.

Surprisingly, over six weeks after the implementation in the state, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar appeared blissfully unaware of the developments when he indicated that the farm bills may not be implemented by the state. He told mediapersons in Pune on September 26 that the government would consult experts before taking any 'final decision'.

The latest development is expected to send shockwaves among the state's farmers, ignite fresh friction within the MVA but spell glad tidings for the Opposition state BJP.

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First Published: 29 September, 2020 08:00 IST

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