The Rajasthan Assembly on Monday passed three Bills to stop the applicability of the Centre’s new agriculture sector laws in the State through the amendments that make the Central Acts ineffective in certain respects. The Bills were passed by voice vote after a marathon nine-hour debate, in which both the treasury and opposition benches exchanged barbs.
The opposition BJP members staged a walkout before the Bills were put to vote, saying the State government did not have the powers under the constitutional scheme to bring in such legislation. Leader of Opposition Gulab Chand Kataria said the Bills, which went against the federal structure, had challenged the Centre’s legislative domain.
The House earlier rejected a proposal to send the Bills for seeking public opinion. Speaker C.P. Joshi said no changes had been suggested in the provisions of the Bills, which had been introduced with the stated objective of ensuring the livelihood security of farmers and protecting minimum support prices (MSP) for agricultural produce.
The three Bills, pertaining to the State amendments to the Central statutes, were the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Special Provisions and Rajasthan Amendment) Bill 2020.
Rajasthan has become the second Congress-ruled State, after Punjab, to formally reject the Centre’s farm Acts, which are being opposed by large sections of agriculturists across the country. The Punjab Assembly had passed similar Bills as well as a resolution against the Central legislations last month.
Replying to the debate on the Bills, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shanti Dhariwal said the BJP-led government at the Centre had tried to finish the farmers and hand over the agriculture sector to big corporates through the farm laws. “We will not allow this to happen in Rajasthan. Over 95% of farmers do not get remunerative prices for their produce… Our amendments will protect them.”
Mr. Dhariwal said the Central laws, if enforced without any change, would also adversely affect the public distribution system (PDS), as the commodities like rice and wheat would not be available for procurement.
“The Central Acts do not even mention MSP. Do they want the corporates to set up their shops in front of mandis and deceive the farmers?” he asked.
Energy Minister B.D. Kalla, who replied to the debate on the Bill for amending the Essential Commodities Act, said the State amendments would stop monopolistic practices in the market and provide relief to consumers buying agricultural produce. He said the Bill would cover potato, onion, grains, pulses, oilseeds and edible oils.
While Agriculture Minister Lal Chand Kataria, initiating the debate, said the Central laws would ultimately abolish Krishi Upaj Mandis and turn the farmer into labourers on their own land, senior BJP MLA Rajendra Rathore said the Congress itself had earlier advocated the creation of a “free market” for farmers.
Leader of Opposition Mr. Kataria said the Central laws had been enacted after taking into account recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission, which talked about “one nation, one market” as well as the contract farming and abolition of indirect mandi taxes. He said the Congress leaders in the State wanted to make their leaders in New Delhi happy by bringing the Bills.
The Bills have sought to restore agricultural safeguards in the State through the regulatory framework of the Rajasthan Agricultural Produce Markets Act, 1961, in order to secure the livelihood of farmers, farm labourers and others engaged in agriculture and related activities. One of the Bills has provided for imprisonment of three to seven years along with the fine of ₹5 lakh for harassment of farmers.
No farming agreement for the sale or purchase of a crop will be valid unless the price paid for the agricultural produce is equal to, or greater than, the prevailing MSP announced by the Central government, according to the Farmers Agreement on Price Assurance Bill.
The Bill seeking to amend the Essential Commodities Act has proposed to protect the consumers from hoarding and black-marketing of agricultural produce and secure the interests of farmers. Unlike the Central Act which had removed the ceiling on the stock of farm commodities, it has sought to give powers to the State government to regulate the production, supply and distribution and impose stock limits under extraordinary circumstances.
The State government has claimed that it can amend the Central Acts in exercise of its powers vested under Article 254(2) of the Constitution and affirmed that agriculture, land and markets were the primary legislative domain of the State falling under Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.
Outside the Assembly, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot has questioned the Centre’s intent behind the enactment of the controversial laws and said the Bills had been tabled in the Parliament without any discussion with the State governments and other stakeholders. Farmers’ groups in the State have also opposed the statutes and expressed apprehensions about their livelihood.