September 15, 2020
Saugata Roy speaks on the statutory resolution disapproving The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020
Sir, I speak in favour of the statutory resolution brought, opposing The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance. Black marketing and hoarding were always a problem in the country, ever since the Second World War. In 1946, Jawharlal Nehru said that we shall hang the black marketeers from the nearest lamp posts. Unfortunately that did not happen. Black marketing went on, so ultimately the country adopted the Essential Commodities Act in 1955.
The Essential Commodities Act gave power to the State governments to regulate trade, including imposing stock limits for various intermediates. Even now, though the country produces surplus foodgrains, it cannot be denied that there is hoarding and black marketing, taking advantage of seasonal shortages or floods or droughts. Now the government wants to take away the powers of the State governments to regulate, and the power to fix stock limits is being taken away. If we look at The Essential Commodities Act, essential commodities are fertilisers, drugs, foodstuffs, petroleum, raw jute, seeds of food crops, seeds of cattle fodders, etc.
Sir, so far the position was that these will be regulated—cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes. Now what does this Ordinance, that has been brought in a hurry, do? I do not understand what was the hurry to bring this Ordinance. There is a provision to deregulate commodities such as cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes. Now the only addition is that the government has specifically said that under extraordinary circumstances, which include extraordinary price rise, war, famine and natural calamity of a severe nature, these can be regulated, but otherwise all these items will be deregulated. I know that the Ordinance leaves out the public distribution system and the targeted public distribution system—PDS and TPDS—under which foodgrains are distributed by the government to eligible persons at subsidised prices.
So what benefit does the government seek from this Ordinance? I say that there is no benefit. Now the government has also said that there will be no control on the stocks of foodgrains and on food items which are being processed. The stock limit shall not apply to a processor or value chain participant of any agricultural produce if the stock limit does not exceed the overall filling of installed capacity of processing or the demand for exports, in the case of exporters. So this Ordinance also leaves out control on stock limits. Now does the government feel that there is no longer any possibility of shortage because we are an exporter?
Sir, you have seen the pictures, sights of immigrants scraping for morsels of food during the COVID-19 crisis. How they scraped for morsels of food! Now the government might say that the EC Act (Essential Commodities Act) was not effective because the conviction rate under EC Act was an abysmal 3.8 per cent.
Say, if the government had set up an effective framework to ensure speedy trials and disposal of violation cases, I would have understood. But we know that even after Narendra Modi became Prime Minister, the pulse scam, that involved the manipulation of prices, happened in 2015. In that case, investigation by the Income Tax Department found several big multinational companies played a major role in the spiking of prices of pulses. So we know that such a scam happened during Narendra Modi’s government.
Sir, you have to remember that India is still dependent on the monsoon for producing sufficient foodgrains. A majority of farm holdings in India are small and marginal. That is why the Essential Commodities Act must still be in place and all regulations must not be given up and market opened up.
Recently, there was a scare of a locust attack in Rajasthan. A locust attack destroys all crops. What happens if some States come under locust attacks? Will you not control food stocks at that time? The El Nino phenomenon has hit Indian agriculture hard in the past.
Given the timing of this amendment ordinance, it is likely to benefit big traders, big corporates, MNC’s but not farmers directly. I want to say that the three farmer-related ordinances that were brought on by the Modi government are all meant to help the private sector, the multinationals, the big capitalists get into the foodgrain trade. Reliance is already into selling vegetables through Reliance Fresh, I anticipate that Adanis too will soon enter the field. These three ordinances—I will speak on the other ordinances later—will actually help big capitalists enter farmers’ spaces.
Sir, our policies thus must ensure sustainable farm growth, taking into consideration factors like climate change, land holdings, consumer capacity and farmers’ interests.
As I mentioned yesterday, this Bill is another example of coercive federalism on display. All the powers of the States—the States earlier had a lot of control under the Essential Commodities Act, every State had an enforcement branch, every State police ensured the implementation of the provisions of the Act—are being taken away. So far, India has ridden through shortages. We are happy that the farmers produce enough for our needs and they even export foodgrains. But that does not mean that a calamity cannot hit us. A calamity, like COVID-19 has hit us and we know the condition of the economy— a 24 per cent downslide in the economy.
That’s why, Sir, I am totally opposed to this Ordinance, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance. I think that this is an effort to give benefits to big traders, corporates and MNCs so that they can enter the food trade, leaving the poor farmers in the lurch.
Thank you very much, Sir.