Farm Acts: SC, protest and Govt

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After series of protest the country has witnessed over newly-enacted three contentious farm laws, the Supreme Court has sought the Centre’s response on a batch of petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the acts. A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde, in a hearing conducted via video conferencing, issued notice to the central government and sought its reply within four weeks. The bench expressed surprised on seeing a battery of law officers, including Attorney General K K Venugopal and Solicitor General Tushar Mehta, appearing in the matter even before the issuance of the notice. The three laws — Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020 and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020 — took effect from September 27 after President Ram Nath Kovind’s assent. The present amendment reduces the power that states and the Centre had to enforce stock limits and price limits on any commodity. The protests against farm sector reforms continue unabated, though efforts were underway to rope in farmers from other states as well. There no clarity on this aspect and it may eventually be required to be settled in the apex court.

The plea said the laws have been passed by Parliament “in breach of the Parliamentary Rules and convention and the impugned acts are unconstitutional on the ground that it is discriminatory and manifestly arbitrary and further violates the Basic Structure of the Constitution.” These laws encourage “corporatisation” of Indian agriculture which is the lifeline of the poor farmers and key to the survival of the nations agriculture sector, it said. They primarily intend to sacrifice the interest of the farmers and leave them at the mercy of the sponsors without any proper dispute resolution mechanism, it said. “The Acts provide for ‘farming agreements’ between the farmers (of whom 85% are marginal farmers owning up to 2 acres) and the Corporate entities”. There is no denying that that the farmers by way of these legislations are pitted against the corporates with disproportionate bargaining powers. One of the petitions also says so. Quite clearly, Congress and other Opposition groups have found an opening for them to regain relevance, by fanning farmer protests against the Acts. There should not be an iota of doubt that the opposition is animated only by political factors.  The BJP cannot complain. It too had made many such U-turns while in the Opposition. Its priority should be to nail the false propaganda behind the farm stir in the country.

As per the government, the new law intends to provide a national framework for the farming agreements to protect and empower farmers as they engage with agri-business, food processing firms, wholesalers, exporters and large retailers. Hopefully, better sense will prevail and the issue of farmers reforms settled through consensus. Maybe the Centre should take the initiative in organising a conference of domain experts to address the misgivings of farmers, in an attempt to nail the false propaganda unleashed by vested interests to depict the farm Bills as anti-farmer.

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