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Bills of Contention

Suggestive content or procedural violation—what makes the BJP’s farm bills more contentious?

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government’s farm bills—the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020—passed in Parliament during the last few days of its monsoon session, have led to a series of repercussions. Ranging from a union minister’s resignation from the cabinet, to ubiquitous protests by the parties in the opposition, to incidents of farmer suicides and call for pan-India strikes by various farmer organisations, to a state government’s decision of moving the apex court in the country—all actions demanding the withdrawal of these bills are predominantly rested on the allegation that these bills are detrimental to the farmers’ interests, especially of the smallholder farmers who dominate the agricultural landscape of India. With the bills providing for the setting up of alternative (private) markets outside the conventional Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC)-governed mandis, and making no mention of the (legalisation of) minimum support price (MSP), the concern, prima facie, is that the government is now replicating its proverbial approach of dodging accountability for the distress-ridden farm sector under the guise of “barrier-free trade for farmers’ produce.”

Such concern seems looming at this hour for various reasons. First, the government’s own estimates show that this year’s kharif harvest is likely to be a historic 140.57 million tonnes. As of April 2020, the central pool was reported to have 73.45 million tonnes of foodgrains, which is almost over 300% of the strategic and operation reserve norm of 21.4 million tonnes. Simultaneously, according to the estimates of the Food Corporation of India (FCI), its wheat and rice stocks are likely to reach a record level of about 92 million tonnes by July 2020, which is more than double the stocking norms. Recall here that the FCI is already reeling under burgeoning outstanding subsidy dues from the central government, not to mention its outstanding loans at the National Small Savings Fund. The latter being an accounting jugglery of an “accountability shirking” government to write off its obligations to the FCI. Second, and in relation to this aspect of escalating stocks at the public granary, is the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices’ (CACP) recent recommendations of reviewing the government’s open-ended procurement and shifting towards private procurement to correct market inefficiencies. While there is no surety that the government will abide by the CACP’s recommendation, there is also no certainty that it will not, given its soaring expenditures on food subsidy, particularly when the economy is into a tailspin as a fallout of the nationwide lockdowns due to the pandemic.

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Updated On : 13th Oct, 2020

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