Cong states look to bypass new farm laws


New Delhi: Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday advised party-ruled states to explore the possibilities of passing legislation under Article 254(2) of the Constitution to negate the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led central government’s “anti-agricultural laws” and prevent “grave injustice” from being done to farmers.

The opposition party is citing the BJP government’s move in 2015, when it asked party-ruled states to bring their own laws to override the Land Acquisition Act of 2013 passed during the tenure of the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to boost infrastructure development.

“Congress president has advised Congress ruled states to explore the possibilities to pass laws in their respective states under Article 254(2) of the Constitution which allows the state legislatures to pass a law to negate the anti-agriculture central laws encroaching upon state’s jurisdiction under the Constitution,” Congress general secretary in-charge of organisation KC Venugopal said in a statement.

“This would enable the states to bypass the unacceptable anti-farmers’ provisions in the three draconian Agricultural laws including the abolition of MSP and disruption of APMCs in Congress-ruled states,” he added.

The party is in power in three states, Rajasthan, Punjab and Chhattisgarh, and the Union territory of Puducherry.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government pushed three bills to deregulate agricultural trade, which were passed controversially by Parliament, overriding demands by the Opposition for greater scrutiny and voting.

Big farmers’ groups, particularly in Punjab and Haryana, are protesting against the bills out of concern that deregulation will leave them vulnerable to powerful agribusinesses and in an even weaker negotiating position than before. The reforms have cost the BJP one of its oldest allies, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), which has quit the ruling National Democratic Alliance.

The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance, Farm Services Bill, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020 seek to liberalise farm trade, enable modern supply chains, allow agribusinesses and farmers to enter into contracts, break interlocked markets and create a seamless commodities trade, currently fragmented.

The main provisions of the Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 allow barrier-free inter-state and intra-state trade of primary agricultural commodities, bypassing notified markets under the Agricultural Produce Market Committees. The bill will enable food traders to buy farmers’ produce from any market, rather than bind them to the specific markets where they are licensed to operate.

Earlier in the day, former Union minister Jairam Ramesh tweeted: “As FM Arun Jaitley got states to resort to Article 254(2) of the Constitution to override provisions of 2013 Land Acquisition law, a law he’d fully supported as LoP {leader of the opposition} in RS {Rajya Sabha}. States should now follow the same advice to undo the damage caused by the #FarmBills that have become Acts.”

Many BJP-ruled states, including Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Jharkhand had in 2015 expressed their desire to have their own laws to override the Land Acquisition Act of 2013 to enable them to move fast on infrastructure development. None of these states subsequently went ahead to draft their own laws.

The Article 254(2) states: “Where a law made by the Legislature of a State with respect to one of the matters enumerated in the concurrent List contains any provision repugnant to the provisions of an earlier law made by Parliament or an existing law with respect to that matter, then, the law so made by the Legislature of such State shall, if it has been reserved for the consideration of the President and has received his assent, prevail in that State: Provided that nothing in this clause shall prevent Parliament from enacting at any time any law with respect to the same matter including a law adding to, amending, varying or repealing the law so made by the Legislature of the State.”

Before coming out with the advisory, the Congress held internal consultations with leaders including Abhishek Manu Singhvi, a lawyer, to explore possible legal recourses for farm bills. Singhvi told the party to ask state governments to pass their own farm bills to negate the clauses of the Centre’s legislation.

While there’s is little chance that the bills would be approved by the President, Congress strategists feel such a move by states administered by the party would send a good political signal.

Singhvi also pointed to Jaitley’s legal arguments on the proposed amendments to the UPA-era land bills and said the Congress should highlight what he had said at that time to turn the tables on the NDA. Senior Supreme Court advocate Sanjay Hegde said in the concurrent list. the state legislation operates to the extent that it is not in conflict with the central legislation.

“The possibility exists where there is both a state and a central legislation. But when it comes to the question of prevailing, the central legislation prevails. At times, the very presence of a central legislation can negate the state’s ability to legislate. In the concurrent list, both Centre and state have competence to legislate but in the event of any ambiguity or overlap, the Centre prevails,” he added.

BJP’s national spokesperson Gopal Krishna Agarwal said the APMC act and the local mandis are already within the domain of the state laws under the Constitution, and the Centre has no power to repeal them. “They will continue as it is. So, what law does Soniaji wants to pass is not clear. Secondly, MSP is declared by the Centre every year on different commodities on the recommendations of the CACP, (which has representatives from the farmer’s community) as an administrative order, Central government has already announced MSP for the current year, in parliament,” he said. He said the procurement has to be done by respective state governments through the local mandis, so the ball for procurement is already in the court of the states.

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