One for the farm: Decoding Punjab amendments

October 22, 2020 6:45 AM

The Punjab Bills are meant to signal that MSP for wheat and paddy will be protected; the state’s right to levy fees on agri-trade is now re-established

The new MSPs of rabi crops are usually announced in October or November.The amendment intends to penalise any sale and purchase of wheat and paddy below MSP.

By T Nanda Kumar

The Punjab legislature passed four Bills on October 20—two to amend the two central farm Acts (FPTC Act or the mandi bypass Act, and FAPAFS Act or the contract farming Act), the third to amend the EC Act amendment, and the fourth to provide for protection to marginal farmers from attachment of their agricultural land (two-and-a-half acres) under the Code of Civil Procedure (CPC). While there is no doubt that these Bills will be debated in the legal as well as political arena, let us examine the crux of these amendments.

The common elements in the amendments aim at the following:
1. Establish the right of the state government to enact amendments/pass laws relating to agriculture;
2. Establish the right of the state government to decide on the ‘coming into force’ of the provisions of the above central acts;
3. Ensure that no purchase can be made below the minimum support price (MSP) for paddy and wheat;
4. Retain the power of the state government to levy a fee on trade of agricultural produce;
5. Ensure that any action taken after June 4, 2020, in pursuance of the ordinances (promulgated on June 5) is nullified.
6. Provide an additional option of civil court in the grievance redressal mechanism for farmers.

The amendment to Section 60 of the CPC is primarily on account of the introduction of civil courts into the redressal system, but will also act as a protective shield against creditors (including banks) from attaching agricultural land of small farmers to the extent of two-and-a-half acres. This is a short note to understand the implications.

The crux of the amendments in the three Acts is as follows:
In all the three Acts, Section 1(2) has been amended to ensure that the provisions of these Acts can come into force only on the date from which the state government (emphasis mine) notifies and not on the date that the government of India notifies(d). MSP has been defined in definitions (Section 2 in both the farm Acts), but is restricted to wheat and paddy and not to other MSP crops. The amendment intends to penalise any sale and purchase of wheat and paddy below MSP.

Any person buying wheat or paddy at prices below MSP can be punished with a term of imprisonment of not less than three years and a fine. The amendments also confer a right on the state government to regulate trade happening in the trade area (area outside the premises of mandis) and on electronic trading platforms and, importantly, levy a fee. This fee is to be credited to a fund for the welfare of small and marginal farmers. The amendments also provide an option to farmers to approach the civil court in addition to the existing remedies provided (the central acts provide for dispute resolution under the sub-divisional officer and the district collector).

The amendment to the ‘amended EC Act’ is to include a proviso to enable the government of Punjab to invoke the provisions of the Act to regulate production, supply, distribution, and impose stock limits under extraordinary circumstances.

Since the amendments in the two farm Acts included a recourse to civil courts, where technically land can be attached under Section 60 of the CPC, a provision has been added to include ‘agricultural land to the extent of two-and-a-half acres’ in case the judgement debtor is an agriculturist. The provision currently exempts his implements of husbandry and cattle used for agriculture.

While these amendments will be the subject of intense legal scrutiny before these are assented to, the message seems to be that MSP for paddy and wheat will be protected at all costs, violators punished, the options of the civil court made available to farmers, and the state’s right to levy a cess re-established albeit for crediting to a specific fund for the welfare of small and marginal farmers.
Interesting times ahead!

(The author is former secretary, Food & Agriculture, government of India. Views are personal)

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