The Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, was signed by the President and became a law on Sunday. The law allows cash and carry buyers to buy farm produce from the farm gates.
It proposes to dismantle the existing Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) which has so far been safeguarding farmers from exploitation by large retailers and ensuring that retail prices do not reach excessively high levels.
Prathapan’s petition argues that the law is not a progressive piece of legislation.
Implementing it in its current form may spell disaster for the farming community by opening up a parallel, unregulated market which will facilitate their exploitation by concentrating power in the hands of a few individuals, corporates and money-lenders, it said.
The law is also against the basic structure of the Constitution as it forces farmers to approach the sub-divisional magistrate in case of a dispute and not a court of law. The farmers have to approach the already overburdened bureaucracy for any solution, his petition pointed out.
“…unchecked hoarding will give exporters, processors and traders the power to regulate the prices of the produce as and when they need, creating artificial demand and controlling the price in the market at will.”
Without the APMCs’ protective arm around the farmers, the market would ultimately fall prey to the greed of MNCs which are profit-oriented and could not care less about the poverty-stricken farmers, it said. Instead, the petition suggested strengthening the existing APMC.
The APMC prevented exploitation of farmers by providing minimum support price which guaranteed that no farmer went empty-handed. Indian agriculture was characterised by small fragmented land holdings and was at the mercy of the vagaries of Nature such as dependence on weather, uncertainties in production and an unpredictable market.
These challenges cannot be addressed by way of monetisation of farmers’ produce to increase their income, it said.
This is not the first time that a federal law has been challenged in the Supreme Court after the BJP came to power at the Centre. Some states had challenged the NRC/CAA superstructure and later the Centre’s decision to auction coal mines for commercial mining.
Pratapan, MP from Thrissur constituency, argued that he was a farmer and understood the challenges posed by the pandemic. He sought court intervention to do away with several sections of the law which curtail the farmers’ right to go to court in case of a dispute and sought the creation of farmers’ tribunals to adjudicate such disputes.