Punjab negates legally debatable Central farm laws: What you need to know
Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh on Tuesday introduced three bills in the state assembly to negate certain provisions of the Central government’s farm bills, which were passed during the monsoon session of Parliament in September.
The Punjab government’s bills are aimed at protecting farmers’ interests and may be adopted by other non-National Democratic Alliance (NDA)-ruled states.
An explainer on the new provisions inserted in the Central laws by the Congress-ruled government in Punjab.
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 and to address their concerns while adopting the basic structure of the Central laws, which allows private sector in production and trading for agriculture produce. The Punjab laws allow private players to buy farm produce or enter contract farming, as the Central laws had envisaged but have also included provisions that the protesting farmer bodies in the state had been demanding.
Has Punjab ensured protection of minimum support price (MSP) of farm produce?
Yes. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) (Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2020, guarantees MSP notified by the Central government for wheat and paddy to all farmers under section 4 of the proposed law. On the contrary, the Central law has allowed the market forces to decide the best price for a farm produce.
Section 5 of the bill overrides any price mechanism suggested in the Central bill. The bill also provides for penal provision and states that paying less than MSP of a farm produce by private players could lead to a minimum jail term of three years and also a fine. The Punjab version of Contract Farming bill makes it illegal to sign a contract with farmers for selling their produce below MSP.
What is there in the bills for protection of Agriculture Produce Marketing Committees (APMCs)?
The bill gives Punjab government the right to levy a fee on private players for buying produce from farmers in any form --- physically or electronically --- anywhere in the state. The provision extends to the mandi system across the state. The Central law had exempted private players from paying any fees outside mandis. The Contract Farming Bill restores primacy of APMCs in sale and purchase of agriculture produce, which was diluted in the Central laws.
What are the other protectionist measures?
The bill allows farmers to approach civil court against private players and a sub-divisional judicial magistrate (SDJM) court provided in the Central law. Punjab has also introduced an amendment in the Code of Civil Procedure (CrPC) 1908, debarring courts from attaching land holding below 2.5 acres in any recovery proceedings. Around 86% of farmers in Punjab have land holdings less than 2.5 acres.
CM Singh has also introduced a bill to amend the Centre’s The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, which nullifies its impact by maintaining status quo ante as on 4 June, when the Central law was promulgated as an ordinance. The Central law allowed the NDA government to regulate supply of certain farm produce like cereals, pulses, potato, pulses, onions and edible oilseeds under extraordinary circumstances such as war, famine, grave natural calamity and extraordinary price rise. The bill restores the state’s power to regulate essential commodities and enforce hoarding limits for agricultural produce.
Can Punjab directly implement these laws?
As agriculture, APMCs and lands are state subjects under entries 14, 18 and 22 of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, the state can frame laws on them. However, as per the entry 33 of the Concurrent List, on which both the Centre and state can legislate, the Union government is allowed to frame laws to control production, supply and distribution of products of any industry, including agriculture. The Centre has introduced the farm reform bills on the basis of this provision. It is likely to become a bone of contention between the Punjab government and the Centre and the matter may come to a head on whether the proposed changes in the Union laws by the former are legally tenable.
Can the Centre negate Punjab bills?
Yes, it can. As the Punjab bills are in conflict with the Central law, the Union government can use its powers by invoking Article 254 (2) of the Constitution and ask the state government to seek approval of the President before notifying these laws. Usually, the President approves a bill after taking the Centre on board. But the President is within his rights to reject it. In case, the Punjab government does not send the bills for the President’s approval citing that agriculture is a state subject, the Centre can bring in amendments in a bid to ensure uniform implementation of its laws across the country.