September 17, 2020
Kalyan Banerjee speaks on The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Prices Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020
Thank you, Sir.
Speaking on The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Prices Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, I, on behalf of my party, strongly oppose this Bill. In one sentence, one of the draconian laws is going to be passed under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, affecting 60 per cent of citizens of this country, who are the poor and marginal farmers.
Before I go to the merits of the debate, let me tell you that today, I’m remembering the Neel Bidroho, also known as Indigo Revolt, by the farmers in Bengal. During the British rule, in 1859, at Chowgacha village of Krishnanagar in Bengal, nearly a lakh farmers were killed by the British because of their protest over the low rates given to them for indigo (neel) seeds, which were only to be sold to a few enterprises, as fixed by the British government.
Sir, this Bill is thoroughly unconstitutional because this House cannot legislate a Bill in relation to agricultural produce because agriculture comes under the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution, as entry number 14, and therefore the State has the power to legislate laws with respect to agriculture, including agricultural education and research. Through this Bill, the rights of the State to legislate law with respect to agricultural seeds is sought to be interfered with. In our state of Bengal, we have a law that deals with agricultural products, which is called the West Bengal Agricultural Produce Marketing (Regulation) Act, 1972.
The effect of the Bill is this: the enterprises and the middlemen will force the poor, illiterate marginal farmers to enter into an agreement by force. Therefore, the effect of the agreement, the contract employment, employed by the different provisions of the Bill will be an agreement between two unequal parties. The effect of the Bill is that the weaker party, that is, the poor, illiterate and marginal farmers, will be forced to enter into an agreement upon the terms imposed by the stronger party and therefore, these poor farmers will have no choice or rather no meaningful choice but to give assent to a contract or to sign on the dotted line in a prescribed or standard form or aspect as a set of rules as part of a contract, however unfair, unreasonable and unconcerned the clauses in a contract or form would be.
Therefore, there would be inequality of bargaining power, a result of the great disparity in economic strength of the contracting parties. The effect of the Bill would be that there would be hoarding, black-marketing and profiteering of the agricultural produces by the big establishments and the middleman, and the State will have no power to control or curb such hoarding, black-marketing and profiteering because, in an indirect manner, the powers of the State under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, have been sought to be taken away.
When hoarding, black-marketing and profiteering would take place, common people will suffer due to the high prices of agricultural products, and States will have to remain mute spectators. The Bill is nothing but another attempt to privatise the entire agricultural industry. In other words, the entire agricultural industry, starting from crop production, is going to be sold by the Central government to private parties.
Sir, if they are really in favour of farmers, then why have forced measures under clause 2J been defined and introduced? Farmers need protection from price fluctuations, especially during floods, droughts, bad weather, earthquakes, epidemics, outbreaks of diseases, natural calamities, insect and pest infestations, and such other events. But because of the clause of force majeure, the superior bargaining parties will not be required to pay the prices which are even quoted in the contract or agreement. Who is going to be benefited? Not the farmers, but the big industrialists whose interests are now the prime consideration of the present Narendra Modi government in every field.
Sir, it is really unfortunate and painful, and with a heavy broken heart, let me tell you that because of this Bill, farmers will be forced into litigation under chapter 3 of the Bill; although they would start from the consolidation process, ultimately they will end in the Supreme Court of India. Would it be possible for the poor farmers to fight litigation, if there is a violation of a clause of a contract by the superior bargaining authority, up to the Supreme Court?
In a country like ours, millions of labourers are still not getting justice on time as they cannot provide litigation expenses. In the future, we will see that 60 per cent of the population of the country will be in a similar situation. In a written reply to the Government of India on April 4, 2018, this model Act was not agreed upon by the government of West Bengal, since its provisions are likely to exploit marginal and small farmers of the state vis-a-vis powerful corporate entities. In Bengal, more than 95 per cent of the farm forces are marginal farmers.
Sir, by reason of the introduction of clause 7(i) in the Bill, with such exemption to all such farming exemptions, no market fee or other existing levy can be levied by the State governments, thereby resulting in a substantial loss of revenue to the States, approximately to the tune of Rs 20 crore per year in terms of collection of market fees and license fees. In our country, more than 85 per cent of farmers are small and marginal farmers.
This Bill does not seem to cater to the right to good price and safety of the poor farmers. By promoting contract agriculture, the Bill instead tends to permanently empower the big landlords and agricultural business lobby.
Sir, I will conclude with this. In 1998-99, in India, there was a government headed by a very respected statesman of our country—Atal Bihari Vajpayee. He headed the NDA sarkar. From 1999 to 2004, the NDA sarkar was again headed by the respected Atal Bihari Vajpayee. I remember everything very well. In 2014, the Modi sarkar came, and in 2019, everything is being sold off. Becho, becho, becho. 2019 mein a gaya becharam sarkar, abhi bechne wala sarkar aa gaya hai.
Thank you, Sir.