SC seeks Centre’s response on pleas challenging farm laws

New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday issued notice to the Central government on a batch of petitions challenging the three farm laws, recently passed by the Parliament of India, claiming that the acts are “discriminatory and manifestly arbitrary” and will expose marginal farmers to exploitation by big corporates.

A bench headed by Chief Justice SA Bobde issued a notice to the Central government seeking its response on the petitions within a period of four weeks.

During the hearing, the bench observed, “We can see Attorney General, Solicitor General Additional Solicitor General in a case where there is no cause of action… This in common parlance is called an overkill.”

“Attorney, you will have to answer this petition, somewhere or the other. We will issue notice,” the Chief Justice said.

The petitions sought quashing of the Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020.

Several politicians, including Rajya Sabha member of the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) Manoj Jha, Tiruchi Siva, MP from Tamil Nadu from Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) party, office bearers of Chattisgarh Kisan Congress Rakesh Vaishnav, and Congress MP from Kerala TN Prathapan have knocked the door of the apex court against the constitutional validity of the laws.

The legislations corporatise agriculture and ushers in an unregulated and exploitative regime, the plea said. “A farmer would not have the knowledge to negotiate the best terms with a private company. This leads to unequal bargaining position in negotiating the farm agreement with corporates would lead to corporates monopolising the agriculture sector,” it said.

These acts encourage the “corporatisation” of Indian agriculture, which is the lifeline of the poor farmers and key to the survival of the nation’s agriculture sector, the plea filed by RJD leader said. It said the acts are an attempt to invade the law-making territory of state governments.

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The Parliament had recently passed the three farm bills, which have come into effect from September 27 after President Ram Nath Kovind gave his assent to the same.

“The acts primarily intends to sacrifice the interest of the farmers and leave them at the mercy of the sponsors without any proper dispute resolution mechanism. The acts provide for ‘farming agreements’ between the farmers (of whom 85 per cent are marginal farmers owning up to 2 acres) and the corporate entities,” a plea said.

Manoj Jha, in his petition, contended that the acts have been passed by Parliament in “breach of the Parliamentary Rules and convention” and the acts are “unconstitutional on grounds that it is discriminatory” and “manifestly arbitrary” and further violates the Basic Structure of the Constitution.

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The price determination mechanism under new laws is only through the agreements between the corporate entities and farmers and do not stipulate that the price should not be below the minimum selling price (MSP) and does not even guarantee the price given by the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC), the RJD leader submitted.

Instead of ensuring Minimum Support Price (MSP), the laws intend to corporatise peasant agriculture and erode the existing legal safeguards that prevent the direct invasion of rural agriculture market by the monopoly corporate forces, the plea said.

It said that the laws enable the sponsors to deprive the market committees of their market fee on the transaction within the specified Market Yards under the State Mandi Laws.

As per the government, the new law intends to provide a national framework for the farming agreements to protect and empower farmers as they engage with agri-business and food processing firms, wholesalers, exporters and large retailers for farm services and sale of produce at a remunerative price framework in a fair and transparent manner.

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