Make legal guidelines farmer-friendly

Gurpreet Kaur and Raj Kumar

FOR the past two months, farmers of Punjab and other states have been protesting against the Centre’s new farm laws. A recent meeting between Union ministers and representatives of farm unions failed to break the deadlock. Farmers claim that the Centre has not addressed their concerns over the three laws: Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act; Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act; and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.

The following are the perceptions and concerns of Punjab’s farmers regarding these legislations:

  • If the farmers will sell their produce outside the APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) mandis, the purchasers will buy the produce at their own rates and not at the MSP. There is no provision in the laws that nobody can purchase the produce at a price below the MSP.
  • The government says that the farmers will not have to pay the market fees while selling their produce outside the APMC mandi. The sellers are only paying unloading and cleaning charges in the mandi. Market charges in Punjab are at present 8.5% — 3% market fee, 3% rural development fund and 2.5% commission for the licensed arhtiya. All charges are being paid by the procurement agency.
  • When there will be little or no sale of produce in the APMC, the government system of procurement will collapse slowly and hence there would be no MSP in future.
  • In case of a dispute, the farmer can’t take legal action against the trading company for breach of trust.
  • In case of contract farming, the contracting party can refuse to purchase the whole produce based on the qualitative parameters of the produce and the farmer may be able to sell only half or even less of the quantity at the agreement price.
  • About 33 per cent of the farmers in Punjab have landholdings less than 2 hectares. They neither have storage capacity nor much marketable surplus with them.

To make these laws farmer-friendly, the following suggestions may be considered after thorough discussions with all stakeholders:

  • There can be a written clause that no one can purchase the farmer’s produce at a price below the MSP. Purchase below the MSP should be punishable.
  • The government can provide infrastructure like cold storage and warehouse facility to the farmers at a nominal rate if they want to store their produce. The government should provide credit facility to the farmers against the stored produce to avoid distress sale.
  • In case of a dispute with the trading company, the farmers should have the option of availing of free judiciary services from the government’s lawyers and approaching the court if not satisfied with the SDM’s decision regarding the dispute.
  • The farmers should be given a written assurance by the contracting party that the whole produce will be purchased and it can be made mandatory for the party to provide assistance to the farmer throughout the crop season for ensuring quality produce.
  • The farmer and the contracting party should have an equal share in the profit/loss from the marketing of the produce. If the contracting party is providing inputs and technical assistance to the farmer, the latter is offering his services and his land for crop production.

The authors are on the faculty of the Department of Economics and Sociology, PAU, Ludhiana

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