Friday, December 4, 2020

Punjab’s new Agriculture Laws are hogwash meant to fool gullible farmers, violates the constitution: Read how

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— Consider reading the article Punjab’s new Agriculture Laws are hogwash meant to fool gullible farmers, violates the constitution: Read how on OpIndia website —

The Punjab Government has recently passed 4 laws related to agriculture, namely the Essential Commodities Bill, Farmer Produce Trade and Commerce Bill, Farmers Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, and the Code of Civil Procedure Bill. This article explains provisions of the Essential Commodities (EC) Bill passed by Punjab that has a blatant disregard for Parliamentary norms and how it is meant to fool gullible farmers. 

Problems with statement of Objects and Reasons (SOR) of the EC Bill of Punjab:

The SOR of the EC Bill of Punjab itself has several shortcomings. Some of them are listed below:

Powers of state govt

On a plain reading of the Bill it seems that the CM Amrinder Singh has not read the provisions of the Union Government’s EC Act. The Central EC Act does not affect or hinder action taken by any State Government against hoarding & black marketing of agricultural produce which is mentioned in SOR of EC Bill of Punjab. It may be mentioned that the states derive powers delegated to them vide order dated 9.6.1978 which have not been withdrawn at present. Thus, they continue to be in force. In fact, to the contrary the Central EC Act will have a positive impact on the livelihood of farmers, as it seeks to facilitate investment in the agricultural sector.

Contravention of the Constitution of India

The SOR of EC Bill of Punjab mentions that ‘‘production, supply and distribution of goods’ is also a state subject under entry 27 of List II read with, Entry 33 of List III of Seventh Schedule of The Constitution of India.” But this is an incorrect claim made by the Punjab govt, because the Constitution of India clearly states in entry 27 of list II-  ‘Production, supply and distribution of goods subject to the provisions of entry 33 of List III.’ Thus a plain reading of the Constitution makes it clear that it lies in the domain of Concurrent List and the central law will have an overriding effect on items under the State List. It may be noted that list II pertains to the state list, while the list III includes subjects in the concurrent list. Subjects in the union list are mentioned under list I.

The entry 33 of the list III, which has been used by the union govt to pass the recent farm laws, says:

33. Trade and commerce in, and the production, supply and distribution of—
(a) the products of any industry where the control of such industry by the Union is declared by Parliament by law to be expedient in the public interest, and imported goods of the same kind as such products;
(b) foodstuffs, including edible oilseeds and oils;
(c) cattle fodder, including oilcakes and other concentrates; (d) raw cotton, whether ginned or unginned, and cotton seed; and
(e) raw jute.
This makes it clear that trade, production, supply and distribution of agricultural products come under concurrent list, and therefore, central laws take precedence over state laws in this matter.

This makes it clear that trade, production, supply and distribution of agricultural products come under concurrent list, and therefore, central laws take precedence over state laws in this matter.

Impinges upon the role of the Centre

It is mentioned in the SOR of the Punjab act that the onus lies upon the State Government to protect consumers from hoarding and black-marketing of agricultural produce including vegetables and fruits etc. It may be pointed out that the Central Essential Commodities Act takes care of all sections of the society by ensuring adequate availability of Essential Commodities at fair prices. Likewise, states can continue to submit their proposals under the Essential Commodities Act for the concurrence of the Central Government.

Problems with Specific Provisions of the Act

Tries to add a proviso to Section 3(1A) EC Act which brings back opacity and discretion in decision making

By adding a provision to Section 3(1A) EC Act Punjab Vidhan Sabha has passed a Bill not only in contravention of Central law but seeks to bring back ambiguity and opacity. The law enacted by the Parliament provides that the stock limits may be imposed if the prices breach a predefined trigger (50% for non-perishable commodities and 100% for perishable commodities).  In the amendment proposed by the Punjab Assembly, price rise has not been defined and it would add to the uncertainties which the Parliament sought to remove while amending the EC Act. Under the EC Act of Punjab there are no stock limits and will continue with discretionary decision making rather than bring in transparency and accountability.

Section 3 tries to amend the EC Act unilaterally

Despite knowing fully well that the Act falls in the Concurrent list, the State Government led by Capt. Amrinder Singh has tried to unilaterally amend a Central Act. This goes against all parliamentary norms and procedures and shows the Congress Party’s Knowledge and respect for our Constitution.

Most provisions redundant or less than the value of paper they are written on

Many provisions of the EC Bill of Punjab are redundant. Like under Section 5, as per the constitutional mechanism, a Central Act or a State Government cannot restrict an Act of Parliament but this is exactly what the EC Bill of Punjab tries to do. If one goes for legal opinion it may be seen that the value of the whole Bill is less than the value of paper it is written on and is merely a political stunt.

Breakdown of federal structure & larger conspiracy in sight

With two more states namely Chhattisgarh & Rajasthan in the fray for conducting special assembly sessions possibly around the same theme, it seems that there is a deeper conspiracy by congress ruled state Governments to undermine the federal structure of India. This is not only in contravention of the Constitution but also inimical to the interests of all Indians including all farmers. On the top of such moves, the CM of Punjab has met the Governor and handed him a letter stating that ‘the central Acts have been rejected for being against the interests of farmers, landless workers’. Nothing can be further from the truth.

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