How the Punjab bills will negate new laws
Punjab Assembly on Tuesday passed three bills to counter some provisions of the Central farm reform laws approved in the monsoon session of Parliament last month to protests by farmers’ groups. The Punjab version of bills is aimed at addressing the concerns of farmers and may be adopted by other non-National Democratic Alliance (NDA)-ruled states, including a provision to protect the Minimum Support Price (MSP) that government procurement agencies pay for farmers’ produce.
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020; the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance, Farm Services Bill, 2020; and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020 were pushed through in Parliament last month. Big farmers’ groups, particularly in Punjab and Haryana, say the Centre’s farm reforms could pave the way for the dismantling of the system of MSPs and that deregulation will leave them vulnerable to powerful agribusinesses and in an even weaker negotiating position than before
Here is an explainer on the new provisions inserted in the Central laws by the Punjab government.
Has the Punjab government nullified the Central laws?
No. The Punjab government has added additional provisions in the three farm laws, providing safeguards to farmers while adopting the basic structure of the Central laws, which allow the private sector in production and trading of agriculture produce. The Punjab laws allow private entities to buy farm produce or enter contract farming, as the Central laws envisaged, but have included provisions that farmers’ bodies in the state have demanded.
Has Punjab ensured MSP protection?
Yes. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) (Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment) Bill 2020 has added a Section 4, which guarantees MSPs notified by the central government for wheat and paddy to all farmers, unlike the central legislation, which allowed the markets to decide the best price for the produce. Section 5 of the bill overrides any price mechanism suggested in the Central bill. The bill also provides for penal provisions for those who pay less than MSPs for farmers’ produce; they would be punishable with a jail term of no less than three years and a fine. The Punjab version of the contract farming bill makes it illegal to sign a contract with farmers for selling their produce below MSP.
What is there by way of protection for agricultural markets?
The bill also gives the Punjab government the right to levy a fee on private entities for buying the produce of farmers in any form --- physically or electronically --- anywhere in the state, thereby extending the mandi system to the entire state. The Central law had exempted private entities from paying any fees outside the mandis. The contract farming bill restores the primacy of agricultural produce marketing committees (APMCs) in the sale and purchase of agriculture produce, which was diluted by the Centre.
What are the other safeguards?
The bill also allows farmers to approach a civil court against private agribusinesses in addition to a sub-divisional magistrate’s court provided for by the central laws. Punjab has also introduced an amendment to the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, barring courts from attaching land holdings below 2.5 acres in any recovery proceedings; 86% of the farmers have less than 2.5 acres of land in the state.
The Punjab CM has also introduced a bill to amend the Centre’s Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, nullifying its impact by maintaining status quo ante as of June 4, 2020, when this Central law was promulgated as an ordinance. The central law allowed the Centre to regulate supply of certain foods such as cereals, pulses, potato, pulses, onion and edible oilseeds only in circumstances such as a war, famine, a grave natural calamity and an extraordinary price rise. The bill restores the state’s power to regulate essential commodities and enforce hoarding limits on agriculture produce.
Can Punjab directly implement these laws?
As agricultural markets and lands are state subjects under entries 14, 18 and 22 of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, the state can frame laws covering them. However, entry 33 of the concurrent subjects, on which both the Centre and states can legislate, allows the central government to frame laws on the control of production, supply and distribution of products of any industry, including agriculture. Using this provision, the Centre has introduced the farm reform bills. It would now be a bone of contention between the Punjab government and the Centre, whether the changes proposed by the central laws are legally correct or not.
Can the Centre negate Punjab laws?
Yes, it can. As the Punjab laws are in conflict with the central laws, the Centre, by using its powers under Article 254 (2) of Constitution, can ask the Punjab government to seek approval of the President before notifying these laws. The President, normally, approves the bills after getting the Centre on board and can refuse to approve the bills. In case Punjab does not send the bills to the President for approval on grounds that agriculture is a state subject, the Centre can amend the Punjab farm laws to ensure uniformity of legislation across the country.