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Evading federalism: Centre 'bracketed' farm laws under Union list's Trade and Commerce

Counterview Desk

The virtual Kisan Sansad, a civil society initiative held on January 23 and 24, 2021 at the Guru Teg Bahadur Memorial at Singhu, Delhi, has demanded the repeal of the three central farm laws, legalisation of minimum support price (MSP), and condemned the government’s “repression” of the farmer protests.
Participated by senior politicians from across the country, including past and present members of Parliament and MLAs, farmers’ leaders, academics, former civil servants, ex-justices, and well-known social activists, it saw speakers point towards how the three laws would pose a threat to farmers and food security.
Speakers said, the three laws were aimed at dismantling the public distribution system currently in place in order to replace it with cash transfer, even as underlining these were passed violating the Constitution’s federal structure. According to them, these were meant to please a few private companies. 

Text of the three resolutions: 

Legalising minimum support price

The National Commission on Farmers, better known as the Swaminathan Committee after its Chairperson Professor MS Swaminathan, recommended about 15 years ago in its report that farmers should receive a margin of 50% for their produce over and above their cost of cultivation. Political parties of different leanings have promised this in their manifestoes and even formed governments since then but this is yet to be implemented.
The current ruling dispensation at the centre has incorrectly claimed that it has implemented this by not calculating the cost of cultivation as recommended in the Swaminathan Committee report. Farmers in India have been agitating for months in their states and for around two months now in Delhi and one of their demands is to have a minimum remunerative price for their produce. They are demanding that the government provide a legal guarantee for a Minimum Support Price (MSP).
In solidarity with the farmers of India, this Kisan Sansad resolves that farmers must be guaranteed MSP in law and a guaranteed procurement of the notified crops at this MSP. The Sansad demands that the government immediately accepts this demand of the farmers in principle and form a suitable committee to recommend how this policy can be enacted in law and draft a bill which may then be placed before Parliament for deliberation and passing within a fixed timeframe, preferably in the next monsoon session to enable the farmers to benefit from this kharif harvest itself.

Government repression of the kisan aandolan

For several months, farmers across the country have been agitating against the three farm laws brought by the government and for getting a fair MSP for their crops. Lakhs of them have been living on the streets on the borders of Delhi since they were prevented from entering Delhi where they wanted to sit and peacefully register their protest against the laws. The government used water cannons, tear gas shells, dug deep trenches and put sand filled containers and trucks in the way to prevent them from entering Delhi. 
Many ministers of this government and spokesmen of the BJP along with their lapdog media have abused the protesting farmers and accused them of being Kalistanis, terrorists and in the pay of Pakistan and China. After a long and tortuous negotiation the government was forced to let the farmers organise their own Republic Day Tractor Parade in Delhi.
The sansad condemns the repression, disinformation and false accusations hurled upon the protesting farmers by the government and lapdog media and its insensitivity to the exemplary and peaceful protests in the harsh cold and rain in which over 150 farmers have already died. The sansad expresses its satisfaction that the government has finally realized the folly of not allowing the farmers to take out a tractor parade on Republic Day in Delhi. 
Kisan Sansad resolved that farmers must be guaranteed MSP in law and a guaranteed procurement of the notified crops at this MSP
But it condemns the government of Uttar Pradesh where farmers are not being allowed to participate in protests. The sansad salutes the resolute spirit that the farmers have displayed in protesting at the borders of Delhi and the remarkable organisation and spirit of service and solidarity that has been displayed by the farmers.

Repeal of three farm Acts

The Kisan Sansad demands full repeal of three recently passed agriculture related acts: Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, and Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020. The demand for repeal of these Acts is in support of and in agreement with the demands of the agitating farmers across the country because:
  1. These three Acts seek to alter the legal architecture of Indian agriculture to the detriment of the farmers. These acts would together give unregulated freedom to corporate and agri-businesses at the expense of crores of small and marginal farmers of India.
  2. The passage of these acts did not involve any pre or post legislative consultation with the principal stake-holders, the farmers. Farmers must be taken into confidence before a government seeks to alter the conditions of their life and livelihood. No draft bill was circulated for public comments as required by the rules. The bills were not referred to a standing committee or even properly voted on in the Rajya Sabha but were rushed through parliament in violation of parliamentary procedure. 
  3. ‘Agriculture’ and ‘markets’ are State subjects under the Constitution, and through these Acts, the Centre is blatantly encroaching into the domain of the State governments. The Centre is using the item "trade and commerce" under the Union List to justify these Central Acts, but farmers contend that it is ‘Markets’ that are being directly and drastically affected by the laws. 
  4. Any amendments to these laws as is being proposed by the government will continue to keep the Acts alive, allowing the government to pass executive orders that might once again weaken the position/protection of farmers’ interests. 
In light of this, the governments offer of suspending the laws for one and a half years makes no sense since that would also have to be done through legislation. Since the government seems committed to making amendments in the laws after consultation with farmer’s organisations, there is no reason not to repeal the laws and then bring in laws in the interests of farmers, afresh, after full consideration and consultation.
The government seems to be standing only on ego and prestige. The sansad therefore resolves that the three farm laws be immediately withdrawn through appropriate ordinance/legislation.

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