Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, June 15
Expressing Punjab’s reservations on the amendments, Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, on Monday, urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to review the three recently issued central government ordinances related to the farming sector, in the interest of farmers, and taking into account the spirit of ‘cooperative federalism’ which the letter has always strongly championed, a press release by the state government read.
Underlining the need for the Centre and the states to work together to secure the collective good of the people of the country, Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh has, in a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking a reconsideration of the three ordinances — for permitting trade in agricultural produce outside the physical boundaries of the set-up of the agricultural market under the APMC Act, easing of easing restrictions under the Essential Commodities Act and facilitating contract farming.
All three should be revisited keeping in view the concerns and the interests of farmers, said Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, seeking protection of farmers’ interests.
Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh pointed out that Punjab had been at the forefront of ensuring food security for the country. The development of crop production technology for wheat and paddy as well as its dissemination, supported by the assured procurement at minimum support price (MSP) by the FCI in the notified markets, had played a key role in building up buffer stocks and making the country self-reliant, he stressed.
The results of this policy, observed Captain Amarinder, were most visible in the recent past when the country was able to face the unprecedented crisis emanating from the COVID-19 pandemic with confidence, with no threat of hunger and food deprivation.
Further, the Punjab Chief Minister pointed that agriculture was a subject entrusted to the sates by the makers of the Indian Constitution and features at entry 14 on the State List. On the other hand, the trade and commerce feature in entry 33 of the Concurrent List, which enabled both the Union and states government to legislate on the subject, provided the state legislation is not repugnant, to the legislation of the Union.
Referring to the specific ordinances, the Chief Minister said the Agriculture Produce Marketing System in Punjab had stood the test of time and served the State and the country well over the last 60 years.
It had in fact been an important contributor to the success of the ‘Green Revolution’, he said, adding that it had helped in ensuring food security on the one hand and securing livelihoods of millions of farmers and farmworkers on the other.
Further, he pointed out that a well-developed infrastructure has also been created in Punjab, both for open marketing and storage of produce and seamless transportation of produce from farm-gate to 'mandis' and godowns. The state government was in the process of further upgrading this infrastructure to support modern farming and agri-marketing practices, he added.
However, the changes as per the Ordinance dated June 5, 2020, in the agricultural marketing system, had led to widespread apprehension among farmers of the state that the Union Government was planning to withdraw from the assured procurement of food grains produced by them.
He said that there was also another apprehension that the proposed barrier-free nation-wide markets for farmers would really come to mean a nation-wide market for traders, possibly to the detriment of the already debt-ridden and beleaguered farmers of the State.
Coming as it does in the times of the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, it would further exacerbate the socio-economic tensions among farmers of the state, said the Chief Minister, adding that this would not at all be conducive for the peace and development of the region, which faces serious challenges of public order due to a live international border.
Drawing the Prime Minister’s attention to “The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020”, Captain Amarinder said it permitted new marketing channels outside the APMC domain and had, thus, far-reaching implications for the states, particularly Punjab.
He said the levies/fees charged by the APMCs were used for the development and management of 'mandis', the creation of rural marketing, and supporting infrastructure, as well as for the welfare of rural farming and non-farming communities.
It is a matter of common understanding that entry 33 of the Concurrent List i.e. “trade and commerce in, and the production, supply and distribution of the products…”, is applicable only to foodstuffs such as raw cotton, jute, oilseeds, etc., which are industrial raw materials and not to food grains, fruits, and vegetables, he said, adding that there thus appeared to be no rationale to infringe upon the APMC Act or for that matter, the autonomy of the States enshrined in the Constitution within the time-tested federal framework.
On the easing of the regulation of food-grains under the Essential Commodities Act, Captain Amarinder said it further allowed the exporters, processors or traders to hold large stocks of farm produce without limits, except in certain grave situations of war, natural calamity, famine, and extra-ordinary price rise. The amendment would allow the private players to buy the produce in the harvest season when prices are generally lower, and release it later when prices firm up.
He stated that in the absence of any regulation, the states would also have no information about the availability of stocks of commodities within the state.
Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh further pointed out that ‘The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020’ provided for engagement of farmers with processors, exporters, and large retailers for farm services and sale of future production at a mutually agreed remunerative price.
“But it largely pertains to contract farming and provision of services. As these services and contracts relate to agricultural produce, it is covered under entry 14 read along with entry 26 and 27 of the State List and cannot be treated simply as a matter of trade and commerce under entry 33 of the Concurrent List,” he added.
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