Farm union moves SC seeking repeal of laws

The recent laws allow businesses to freely trade farm produce outside the government-controlled mandi system, permit private traders to stockpile large quantities of essential commodities for future sales and lay down new rules for contract farming.
Meals being prepared at a community kitchen for farmers camped at Singhu Border against the new farm laws, near New Delhi.(Sanchit Khanna /HT PHOTO)
Meals being prepared at a community kitchen for farmers camped at Singhu Border against the new farm laws, near New Delhi.(Sanchit Khanna /HT PHOTO)
Updated on Dec 12, 2020 02:41 AM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByAbraham Thomas and Zia Haq

A faction of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU), one of the farmers’ groups at the vanguard of the protests against three Central laws enacted to open up agricultural trade, has moved the Supreme Court demanding that the laws be rolled back, citing concerns that they would give multinational companies a free hand
to exploit poor and illiterate farmers.

In an application and a separate petition filed on December 9, BKU (Bhanu), led by Bhanu Pratap Singh, said the laws will make farmers vulnerable to the corporate greed of multinationals, as the central government on Friday made the second appeal in two days to farmers groups to resume talks to end the standoff.

“The impugned legislations corporatise agriculture and usher in unregulated and exploitative regime because Indian farmers, of which most are illiterate, would not have the knowledge to negotiate the best terms with a private company and due to this [will] lead to unequal bargaining position in negotiating the farm agreements with corporates,” said the plea.

The recent laws allow businesses to freely trade farm produce outside the government-controlled mandi system, permit private traders to stockpile large quantities of essential commodities for future sales and lay down new rules for contract farming. Farmers fear the reforms could pave the way for the government to stop buying staples at federally fixed minimum support prices (MSP), erode their bargaining power and leave them at the mercy of private buyers.

The petition by BKU Bhanu to repeal the laws are among a clutch of other petitions already pending in the Supreme Court against the farm laws, including one moved by Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (CMK) MP Tiruchi Siva and Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) MP Manoj Jha.

BKU Bhanu has sought the court’s permission to be impleaded as an “intervener” in the petition already filed by Siva against the three farm laws.

Thousands of farmers who are camping on Delhi’s borders said on Friday that they were in the process of intensifying their agitation, and will block the Delhi-Jaipur highway on December 12 as well as occupy toll plazas, even as Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar made a second appeal in 24 hours to farm unions to resume talks with the government.

“Any law is never entirely bad or good. Therefore, we have come out with amendments on provisions which during discussions the farmers had apprehensions about,” Tomar had said on Thursday.

The Samyukt Kisan Morcha, the common platform under which several farm unions are protesting against the farm laws and recently held talks with the Centre, said the BKU Bhanu faction was not one of its constituents and its decision to approach the SC was its independent decision. But its leaders indicated that they were not against the idea of the faction moving court.

“We are with [petitioner] Bhanu Pratap Singhji. Everybody has a right to move to court,” said Rakesh Tikait of the BKU’s Tikait faction, which is part of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha.

“The BKU’s Bhanu faction is not one of our constituents and we are not associated with their legal processes. They are against the farm laws and have sought to be impleaded in an ongoing case. That’s their choice,” said Kavitha Kuruganti, another prominent leader of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha.

In its plea, BKU (Bhanu) has compared corporate entities with “unscrupulous money lenders who would twist the words in their contracts, making it unfavourable for farmers.” The plea added that implementation of the three laws in their present form will spell disaster for the farming community by opening a parallel market that is unregulated and leave room for exploitation of Indian farmers. Supporting the continuation of agriculture produce market committees (APMCs) as a “protective shield” around the farmers, BKU Bhanu maintained that without APMCs, the market would ultimately fall to the corporate greed of multinational companies that are profit-oriented. The Bhanu faction holds influence over sugarcane farmers in Uttar Pradesh as well as agriculturists in Rajasthan, one of the largest growers of millets and spices.

“The government is saying [let’s find a] ‘middle path…middle path’. What middle path? The government is there because we voted them. We voted the Congress out. So, they have to listen to us,” said Bhanu Pratap Singh, the leader of BKU Bhanu.

Singh said the farm-reform laws would lead to a collapse of the notified markets and these “markets would fall to the greed of MNCs who are profit oriented”. A large number of supporters of the BKU Bhanu faction are camping on the Delhi-Uttar Pradesh border.

The recent laws allow businesses to freely trade farm produce outside the government-controlled mandi system, permit private traders to stockpile large quantities of essential commodities for future sales and lay down new rules for contract farming.

The government has deregulated farm markets, giving more space to private traders, to spur investments in a farm sector dependent on subsidies. Thousands of farmers are protesting the new changes, saying they will be swallowed up by big corporations.

Offering to make concession, the government had sent out a written proposal to amend The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 to bring parity between so-called free markets and notified markets controlled by state governments.

Another key offer is to bring additional legal safeguards for farmers’ rights engaging in contract farming “if needed”, including a bar on any confiscation of farm land to recover dues, and possible immunity to farmers from penalties for crop-residue burning, which causes pollution. The government had also proposed to keep farmers out of a law to impose penalties for stubble burning. It has also said that the existing mode of subsidising electricity for agricultural use will continue as demanded by the farm unions.

The government in its written proposal had also said it was willing to issue a written assurance that the current system of minimum support prices would continue as usual.

“The courts will obviously take a view, whatever that is. How far it will go in matters of policy execution is not clear now. There were similar petitions in Supreme Court against some decisions taken during the economic reforms in 1991,” said K Mani, a former economist at the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.

Talks between the government and farmers union have broken down, with farmers calling off the sixth round of negotiations slated for December 10.

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Monday, December 06, 2021