It is highly likely that courts will be called upon to decide on the constitutionality or otherwise of the bills
The passage of four bills and a resolution by the Punjab Assembly seeking to undo the impact of the three recently passed Central laws to regulate farming could trigger a political war between the Opposition-ruled states and the Centre on agriculture, a state subject as per the seventh schedule of the Constitution.
While the unanimous resolution passed by the Assembly in the Congress-ruled state has asked the Centre to annul the Central laws and promulgate an ordinance making procurement of food grains on minimum support price (MSP) a statutory right of the farmers, the three state laws seek to address the grievances of the farmers who have been protesting against the Central laws. According to the Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services (Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2020, no sale of paddy and wheat will be valid in the state unless the rate of payment is equal to or above the MSP and its violation could attract imprisonment of not less than three years and a fine. The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) (Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2020, provides for a fee to be levied on traders or electronic trading and transaction platforms for trade outside the mandis run by the Agricultural Produce Market Committees. The Bill amending the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, seeks to protect the farmers from attachment of land below 2.5 acres in recovery proceedings, insulating small farmers from the provisions of the Central law that facilitates contract farming. The Essential Commodities (Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2020, empowers the state to set stock limits under extraordinary circumstances, a power the Central law had reserved for the Union government.
While the Central laws concerned made the mandis redundant by allowing farmers to sell outside them, the state law makes such trade unviable by making it a costly deal.
That these laws followed the exhortation of Congress president Sonia Gandhi to the states her party rules to take legislative route to checkmate the Centre’s move puts their fate uncertain as governors can sit on them or consult the President, as per the constitutional provisions. It is highly likely that courts will be called upon to decide on the constitutionality or otherwise of the bills and the farmers will have to wait to benefit from them, if there is any.
It’s pretty clear that the Capt. Amrinder Singh government is making a political point by moving the bills. The BJP had claimed that the Modi government was doing what the Congress had promised in its manifesto—to free up the mandis from all controls. The Congress, however, had explained that the party was aiming at reforms of the markets that were long overdue. It may be noted that the Punjab bills offer pretty little in terms of reforming them. If it really wants to support the farmers and win the argument on the issue of farm bills, the Congress government should make the functioning of the mandis transparent and non-exploitative. Whether it will walk the talk is the moot question.