rom the election point of view, farmers are too important a segment for any political party in the country to ignore. No political party in India worth its salt can afford to antagonise this segment. This being the case, why is that the BJP-led NDA government comes across as anti-farmer so far as the passage of the three farm Bills by both the Houses of Parliament go? The government has pushed through three farm Bills that the Opposition dubs as anti-farmer. So much so that Union Food Processing Minister Harsimrat Kaur of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) resigned from the Union Cabinet registering her party’s protests against the Bills. Agriculture is a state subject. And to that extent, the Centre is constitutionally bound to consult state governments and develop consensus before it goes ahead with any legislative reforms for the farm sector. In the instant case, due process has not been followed as is the wont of this government. In the past also, Bills have been tabled and passed in Parliament without discussion, let alone attempting to reach consensus with state governments. The Centre claims the farm Bills will be a game changer for the farming community and will be most beneficial for them. Claims apart, the government has failed to take the Opposition on board on its logic. First, there was no need to rush through the legislation by the government without so much as reaching a consensus among its alliance partners. Granted that the government’s initiatives are well-intentioned, but why it is shying away from convincing its alliance partners and then various other stakeholders of the Bills that they purportedly intend to benefit. A national debate is in order to remove various apprehensions about the Bills.
The Centre claims the reforms will give farmers the much needed freedom to decide who to sell the produce and where to sell. Earlier, he depended on APMC. But, the reality was that APMCs could never do 100 per cent procurement of the produce, leading to distress sale by farmers. Even in states like Maharashtra where the APMC system is very strong and organised, many farmers have committed suicide. Freedom to access the market would not necessarily mean farmers could sell the produce at best prices. What is required is making available to farmers scientific warehouses and cold storages where they could store the produce until they get better prices for their produce. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act now allows regulating the supply of certain food items only under extraordinary circumstances. Major items such as cereals, pulses, oilseeds, cooking oils, onion and potatoes have been taken out of the purview of the Act. In a state like Odisha where people are vulnerable to price fluctuations of tubers due to hoardings by middlemen and traders, the amended Act will serve no purpose. In 2017, when the Goods and Services Tax (GST) was rolled out, the Centre deprived states of their rights to tax services and commodities. What they got was an assurance that they would get compensations for five years. This fig leaf has also not come their way at a time when state governments are fighting with the Covid-19 with their back to the wall. Snatching away financial powers of the state governments by way of GST was bad. But what the Centre is trying to do by way of the farm Bills is to do a parallel GST by tinkering with the food and livelihood of farmers.