Rajasthan Assembly passes Bills to counter Centre’s farm laws

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The Rajasthan Assembly on Monday passed three Bills to counter the farm laws enacted by the Centre with the state following the example of Congress-run Punjab and Chhattisgarh.

BJP MLAs staged a walkout just ahead of the voice vote that took place after about eight hours of debate in the House.

The Rajasthan Bills mandate that crops will be bought or sold for no less than the minimum support price (MSP) and provide for imprisonment of three to seven years for harassing farmers.

However, the Bills become law only after the Governor’s assent, who may withhold and decide to refer them to the President.

The Parliament recently enacted farm laws deregulating the sale of agriculture produce. Several farmer unions and the opposition Congress claimed that the move by the BJP government at the Centre will lead to the dismantling of the MSP system.

Replying to the debate in the assembly, Rajasthan Parliamentary Affairs Minister Shanti Dhariwal said the entire country is against the Centre’s new farm.

“I can say it with a guarantee that all three farm laws will have to be withdrawn, just like the Land Acquisition Act,” Dhariwal said.

Dhariwal said farmers were free to sell their produce anywhere in the country in the existing system, contrary to what has been claimed by the Centre.

“Farmers were free to sell their produce anywhere in the country and you are saying that you have freed them. You have worked to handover agriculture mandis directly into the hands of corporate houses,” Dhariwal said.

The state parliamentary affairs minister said when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat, he had advocated to make procurement of crops on the MSP mandatory but now everything has changed.

The Centre did not work out a formula to calculate the MSP as suggested by the Swaminathan Commission, he said.

“None of the Centre’s three laws has a mention about the MSP. So, why should we not have suspicion and level allegations,” he asked.

State Power Minister B D Kalla said the Centre’s law proposed that prices of commodities will be controlled only when there is an unprecedented rise in their prices. In such a situation, big players will be able stock the commodities and common people will suffer, he alleged.

Defending the central laws, Leader of Opposition Gulab Chand Kataria said they were enacted after taking into account recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission, which talked about one nation, one market; contract farming; and abolition of indirect mandi taxes.

Rajasthan’s Congress government brought the bills just to make the party leaders in Delhi happy, he said.

“If someone has worked to bring a change in the farmers’ lives, it is Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” Kataria said.

The three state Bills passed on Monday are the Essential Commodities (Special Provisions and Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2020; Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2020; and Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation and Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2020.

In addition, the state assembly also passed the Code of Civil Procedure (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2020. The Bill seeks to protect farmers with small holdings from attachment of land.

The Congress leadership had earlier suggested that states where it is in power should pass laws of their own to counter the central legislations that had triggered farmers’ protests in several parts of the country.

The Rajasthan Bills tweak the Central laws through amendments.

The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill adds: “Provided further that no farming agreement for the sale or purchase of a crop shall be valid unless the price paid for such agricultural produce is equal to, or greater than, the prevailing minimum support price, announced by the Central Government for that crop.”

Three new sections have also been added as special provisions for Rajasthan, specifying punishment for harassment of farmers and powers to the state government to give directions.

The Bill proposes imprisonment from three to seven years with or without a fine of Rs 5 lakh if any person, company or association harasses farmers.

“There has been extraordinary outrage amongst the farmers, farm labourers and all others engaged in incidental and ancillary agricultural activities,” a statement tabled along with the bill had said.

It claimed that the “direct consequences” of the Central Act would be to nullify the MSP mechanism “that has stood the test of time” and introduce “several other infirmities and distortions” that go against farmers.

In the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation and Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, one of the amendments relates to regulation of notified agriculture produce.

It says the state government may notify a fee or cess on such produce bought or sold by a corporate or trader in a trade area.

The three central farm bills—the Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 — were notified as laws in September.

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