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Ashima Ohri

A business economist, lawyer, and writer.

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[The Farmers’ Protest] Are Farm Laws Biting the Hands That Feed Us?

Here’s a quick look at the two sides of the coin—The Farm Reform Bills and the Farmers’ Reservations about the said reforms.

Farmer Protest, BW Legal World

“Agriculture is the greatest and fundamentally the most important of our industries. The cities are but the branches of the tree of national life, the roots of which go deeply into the land. We all flourish or decline with the farmer.” – Bernard Baruch 


The country that sings of the richness of its soil in popular songs like “Mere desh ki dharti” (a patriotic song from 1967 film Upkar) and avows the glory of its farmers through the golden words of its second Prime Minister, Shri Lal Bahadur Shastri—Jai Jawaan! Jai Kisaan!—has a sea of farmers marching in protest, putting their lives on the line amid the pandemic. 

Where, then, have we faltered?

Here’s a quick look at the two sides of the coin—The Farm Reform Bills and the Farmers’ Reservations about the said reforms.
 
The farmers are protesting against: The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Service Act, 2020, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.


The Government’s take: The government has sought to allay apprehensions of farmers on the minimum support price and said farm laws provide them with the freedom to sell their produce. (ANI)

In other words, the reforms aim to open the agricultural sale and marketing outside the APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committees) mandis for the farmers. The Farm Laws will remove inter-state trade barriers paving the way for contract farming that will enable farmers to sell directly to agri-business firms or large retailers on previously agreed prices for their produce.


Apple of discord: Agricultural researcher and writer, Devinder Sharma, in his opinion published in Deccan Herald says, “Farmers need a vast network of regulated mandis like in Punjab and Haryana. That will be the real freedom for farmers when they are assured of getting MSP (Minimum Support Price) wherever they sell their crop.”
 

Through the Legal Lens

Addressing the farmers' fears, Advocate Vivek Narayan Sharma, succinctly expounds on the subject. He says, 

The new farmers' legislation contains some of the much and long-awaited reforms like providing provisions to curb the roles of middlemen (aarthi) and therefore providing power to farmers to directly sell their agri-products either in the market or to dealers or retailers. While it may provide the effect of reduced cost to the consumers, the farmers can also have a win-win situation. However, there is no MSP provided in the new process, which may have the effect of de-railing this welcome effect as collective bodies of industry, retailers etc., may cartel together and provide one-sided negotiations to scattered farmers and therefore the benefit of new legislation may just erode in favour of industries/retailers/supermarkets, etc.

The government needs to tap this lethal leak to benefit the farmers of the nation.


Casting light on the question of the validity of these laws, Advocate Siddharth Batra, Supreme Court of India, Partner Satram Dass B & Co says, 

We are a federal country, one of the most diverse countries in the world, a subcontinent that is home to over 100 languages, over 700 different tribes, every major religion in the world. Farmers’ agitation raises an imminent question to whether the farm laws passed by Parliament hit the federal structure of the country. 

The Supreme Court has already issued a notice on the validity of the farm laws. The case before the Supreme Court is whether the laws were ‘prima facie unconstitutional, illegal and arbitrary’ as they would ‘usher in a new exploitative regime for the poor farmers of the country, who are entirely dependent on earning their livelihood, by selling their produce in the market.’ The Supreme Court has already asked the centre to respond to the petitions. The question is when will the Supreme Court take it up for the final hearing. A decision on the validity of the laws may be an answer to the fear in the minds of the farmers.


Speaking on the way the much-debated reform has been brought in, Advocate Rajesh Jakhar, Hisar, Haryana states, 

The modus operandi of passing the farm bills is against federalism and constitutional ethos. The farmers are agitated because their voices, as the most important stakeholders, were ignored. They have as much a right of peaceful protest, as of availing their constitutional remedies under the writ jurisdiction of the courts.


Anu Sura, Senior Associate at PSL Advocates & Solicitors adds that:

What we’re witnessing in the form of farmers’ protest is ‘deliberative democracy’ in action. On the judicial side, the Hon’ble Supreme Court has already issued a notice in a batch of petitions challenging the vires of these legislations. The challenge, among other things, it seems, is against centre’s competence to legislate on state subjects (agriculture, industries, markets and fairs) and interpretations of entry 33 of the concurrent list,” says 


Summing up the legal recourse available to the farmers, Sameer Jain, Managing Partner, PSL Advocates & Solicitors shares, 

In my view, a designated leader of the farmers should have a peaceful dialogue with the Sarkar and if that doesn’t assuage their cause, they should take the legal recourse. Protesting right now is putting themselves, their families, the police force and their families at risk.

They can file a writ if they feel that new farm law is violating their fundamental right to trade (as far as the MSP) issue is concerned.

Leaving everyone with more food for thought, on the issue of MSP and the popular perception that these reforms are anti-farmer and pro-corporation, Sidharth Sethi, Advocate-on-Record, Supreme Court of India, brings an interesting and well-reasoned take to the discussion. Giving everyone the lay of the land, Sethi finds there is an error in understanding of the farm reform laws. 

He says, 

"These legislations are path-breaking. Amongst other things, they will empower the farmers to freely sell their produce from farm gate directly to the buyers/exporters/processors/retailers who are offering better prices as an alternative to APMC Markets (without paying any market fee in trade area). There will be a reduction in transportation cost of farmers’ produce (from the farm gate to the mandis) and there will also be a reduction in post-harvest losses.

The genesis of the problem however appears to be a perception that these are not farmer-friendly. There is a belief that the mandi system is being abolished and that Minimum Support Price (MSP) is being scrapped. However, this does not appear to be correct. The mandi system will continue to function and farmers can sell their produce inside the mandi. Through reforms, the trading channel has been facilitated as an additional channel for farmers to sell farmers’ produce, so that farmers can get better prices for their produce. As for MSP, the overall scheme of the legislations in fact can provide market-driven competitive price and even better than MSP.

The dispute resolution mechanism envisaged under the legislations is also fairly simple, easy and low cost. There are strict timelines prescribed for the resolution of disputes.

If there are any concerns about the constitutional validity of these legislations (i.e. whether the Central Government is empowered to legislate to promote trade in farmers’ produce, under Entry-33 of the Concurrent List in the Seventh Schedule to the Constitution of India), the recourse is to have this tested in a court of law. The Hon’ble Supreme Court is already seized of the issue.”   


It remains to be seen what happens next when representatives of the farmers meet with Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar for talks on Dec. 3.

The article has been updated November 28, 2020; 15:24 hrs.



Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house



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