The four bills passed unanimously on October 20 by Punjab Vidhan Sabha are a result of the intense and focussed struggle of Punjab’s peasantry. They help, as they also highlight the attack on peasants by the Central Acts as well as bring forth the state government’s assertion of its Constitutional rights over Agriculture. They do not, however, provide any concrete relief to the peasants from the impact of the Central Acts and only end up validating several pro corporate concepts.
Both Bills start with a reference to the central acts stating that they “introduce several other infirmities and distortions operating to the grave detriment and prejudice of agriculture and communities associated with it, in the execution of agreements between farmers and traders or buyers”. They also state that the central acts introduce a mechanism that is “vulnerable to encroachment and manipulation by vested corporate interests leaving the farmer open to the vagaries of market forces for getting an optimum price for agriculture produce, fruits and vegetables.”
The Bills thus oppose corporate control over agriculture in a sense, but fail to conceptually counter the imposition and facilitation of corporatisation of our farming and food chain. They pose to oppose the Central Acts, underline the need to annul them, but end up validating conceptually the centre’s facilitation of Corporate penetration and control over agriculture.
MSP and Procurement Guarantee
The major debate in Punjab is about MSP and govt procurement. The single biggest failure of the Bills is that there is not a word about guaranteeing procurement by the govt. Also, there is no assertion on determination of MSP as per Swaminathan formula. The Bills simply rely on central MSP declarations and state that purchase below MSP will be invalid “in so far as it relates to wheat and paddy alone”. MSP benefit to other crops is denied.
There nothing specified to ensure that farmers actually get any justice if transactions are below MSP, as they are to be declared invalid, but it is not notified that it will be an offence. Saying that something is not valid does not mean it is declared to be an offence, inviting penalty or punishment. It is not clear what the peasants are supposed to do if the transaction is declared invalid. Nothing in the act is ‘prescribed’ for such eventuality. No grievance redressing mechanisms has been provided for. The Bill simply states that if anyone “compels or exerts pressure on the farmers …….. to enter into a contract or sale of agriculture produce in his possession, at the price below at the MSP, then such person shall the deemed to committed an offence which shall be punishable of a term of imprisonment of less than 3 years and fine.” It is unclear how the peasant should prove his harassment.
Question of Funds
Both the bills state that it is the primary and principal responsibility of the state govt. to provide a level playing field to farmers and prevent exploitation, even though responsibility runs concurrent and falls on both state and centre. While ground operations are controlled by the state govt the centre has to provide the policy thrust and funds. However there is nothing in the bills which pins down the centre for provision funds, nor do the Acts state from where the state govt will generate funds, without which it will not be possible to implement any MSP or procurement guarantee measure.
Contracts, Mandi Fees, etc.
The Contract farming Bill of Punjab states that the central law will come in to force only when the state govt notifies it. The bill does not invalidate contract farming or question it.
The APMC-related and Contract Farming related Bills, oppose the Central Act’s provision that fees cannot be levied in ‘trade areas’ by stating that the state government will keep the powers to levy fees. The Bills also try to hold off enforcement of Central Acts by saying that they can come into force only when state government notifies.
Both Bills seek to provide access to parties to approach civil courts, but do not provide for any compensation to the litigant farmer during the pendency of his claim.
Food Pricing and PDS
|In the ECA-related Bill, Punjab government seeks to keep authority to regulate the ‘extra ordinary circumstances’, but does not oppose this new anti people condition on food stocking and trade. Under the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, the provision is for the centre to notify, ‘if it is of the opinion that it is necessary or expedient to do so’ any commodity to be essential. Under this food was essential commodity at all times and so legal inflation check was mandated at all times. The Punjab Bill thus validates the Central Govt. ploy to bring food out of essential commodity category and open up food market more to corporate profiteers. This is when the Central Act clearly states that PDS system is for the ‘time being in force’ and that BJP leaders, government committees and corporate lobbies are asking for the PDS system to be dismantled. This is neither reassuring for the farmers or the consumers.|
|Posing to Support Peasants
What the Punjab government has attempted is a stand on some aspects, which is quite limited and even that does not seem enforceable. What it could have done is to clearly pin down a complete and proper ban on the freedom of corporate and MNCs to conduct business in agriculture, setting up of mandis, conducting food processing, storage, cold storage, transport, sale and control of the food chain. By failing to do so ruling class parties in Punjab have exposed themselves as essentially in favour of the pro corporate policy, though their stated positions do help the peasant struggle against the centres attack.