Point proven, now be pragmatic

Photo: business standard

As a result of the protest of farmers in Delhi, the government has come up with suggestions of a few amendments in the newly passed three farm acts. The farmers’ concern is around a few clauses in the act  which have created a deadlock between farmers and the government.

The first point of deadlock is the exemption of tax on all the transactions outside the physical premise of APMC from any market fee or cess or levy imposed by the state government. This in turn will diverge most of the buyer from government established markets to private markets.

What the centre has proposed now is to rollback the provision that did away with a market fee or cess or levy under state APMC Act or any other state law under section 6 of the act. So this proposed amendment will empower state governments to impose taxes and fees in the private mandis as well and ensure a level-playing field between the APMC mandis and private markets.

The next point of deadlock was section 4 of the Act which states that any one having an income tax permanent account number(PAN) or other document notified by the central government can buy or sell in the market. This gave rise to the worry of fly-by-night operators. In the existing APMC Act, the market is authorised to cancel the license of any trader not paying farmers their due. They also go ahead and encash the bank guarantees submitted by the traders and pay it off to the farmers. So the farmers’ fear lies in the fact that the buyers transacting outside the mandis will not be held accounted for.

What the central government has proposed through amendment is to empower states to make rules on registration of buyers. The proposal gives states a foot in the door in determining who is a buyer.

The next reason is section 15 which states that disputes arising in the alternative market shall not be entertained in regular civil courts. For these cases, a conciliation board and appellate authority will be appointed by the SDM and DM. Another section also says that the decision taken by them will be binding on the concerned parties. Their decision will have the same influence as the decree of a civil court. The concern of farmers in this is, it is denial of justice. The officers are already appointed by the government so how can they be unbiased. They are likely to support the government whereas courts have independent authority.

Now the government has proposed  that the farmers can approach civil courts.

The main point of farmers protest is the gist or Section 3 which states:” an act to provide for the creation of an ecosystem where the farmers and traders enjoy the freedom of choice relating to sale and purchase of farmers produce… to promote efficient, transparent and barrier-free interstate and intra state trade and commerce of farmers’ produce outside the physical premises of markets or deemed markets notified under various state agricultural produce market(APMC) legislation; to provide a facilitative framework for electronic trading.”

The farmers feel these laws will increase the role of private trade in agriculture, encourage contract farming and set a higher bar for imposing stock limits. They think the laws have left them at the mercy of private players.

In these proposed amendments by the government, section 3 is left untouched which according to the government is the main object and purpose of the legislation and the main reason farmers` fear. All other reasons  of concern for farmers grow from this root cause only. 

The union government has, to some extent, solved the crucial aspects of the problem. The introduction of private players is in addition to the government established mandis. It will definitely increase the choice of farmers as the registration and payment issues have been resolved. 

The farmers initially demanded a written assurance of continuation of the Minimum Support Price system but now their demands have been enlarged to complete rollback of the laws.

Farmers made their point to the government and they won moral victory. They have gained public sympathy through their dignified and non-violent conduct even in the face of insinuation. They should give a look towards the new reforms with the offered amendments and should not ignore the government’s effort.

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