NEW DELHI: After almost a year-long protest by thousands of farmers, mainly from Punjab and Haryana, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday made a big announcement that his government will repeal the three controversial agricultural reform laws enacted by the Parliament last year.
In a televised address on the occasion of Guru Nanak Jayanti, the PM said that the government has decided to repeal the three farm laws, which were at the centre of protests by farmers for the past year, and appealed to the protesting farmers to end their agitation and go back home.
Addressing the nation, PM Modi insisted that the laws were in the benefit of farmers and then apologised to the people of the country for failing to convince a section of farmers despite its clear heart and a clean conscience.
"There may have been some shortcoming in our efforts due to which we could not explain the truth, as clear as the light of the diya, to some of our farmer brothers," PM said. Noting that it is the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev, he said it was no occasion to blame anyone.
"I have come to tell you that we have decided to repeal the three farm laws. In the upcoming Parliament session starting at the end of this month, we will complete the constitutional process to repeal the three farm laws," PM Modi said.
"I would request all my protesting farmer friends, today is the auspicious day of Guru Purab, return home, to your fields and family and make a new beginning, let us move forward afresh," he said. The goal of the three farm laws was to empower farmers, especially small farmers, the Prime Minister said.
What are the three controversial farm laws?
Thousands of farmers had been camping at Delhi border points since November last demanding a repeal of three farm laws — the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; the Farmers Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act 2020; and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
The Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020: This law allowed farmers to trade their produce outside the physical markets notified under various state Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee laws (APMC acts). It overrode all the state-level APMC acts.
Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020: The law sought to create a legal framework for contract farming in its Sections 3-12. The farmers could enter into a direct agreement with a buyer before sowing season to sell their produce at pre-determined prices. It allowed setting up of farming agreements between farmers and sponsors. The law, however, did not mention the MSP that buyers need to offer to farmers.
Though the Centre said the law was an attempt to liberate farmers by giving them choice to sell anywhere, the farmers feared that it would lead to corporatisation of agriculture. They also feared this would mean the MSP will be removed.
Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020: Through an amendment, to the Essential Commodities Act, 1955, this law did away with the Centre’s powers to impose stock holding limits on food items, except under extraordinary circumstances.
The three contentious bills which received the President’s assent on September 27, 2020, were passed by the Parliament amid an uproar by opposition party leaders and farmers' unions.
What was the controversy surrounding three farm laws?
Farmer unions and their leaders vehemently opposed several provisions of the three laws and demanded the Centre to repeal what they termed as “Black Laws.” They also demanded a legal guarantee on Minimum Support Prices (MSP).
Under the aegis of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha, which is an amalgamation of several farmer bodies, the farmers launched an indefinite agitation against the Centre demanding a complete withdrawal of the three laws.
They also demanded written assurance for the continuation of MSP and conventional food grain procurement system. The farmers pressed for the MSP on the basis of the recommendation made by the Swaminathan Commission. The panel said the government should raise MSP to at least 50% more than the weighted average cost of production
The farmers’ unions also favoured the Mandi System and opposed any move to scrap them. Among other measures, they also demanded the withdrawal of the Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020 as they were worried over huge power bills.
The farmer unions also pressed for an end to the fines and jail sentences imposed for stubble burning. Several rounds of talks between the government and the farmers' union leaders were held in the past one year but they all failed to achive any breakthrough.
Procedure for repealing farm laws
The government will have to move a bill in Parliament to repeal the three agri laws, which were at the center of protests by farmers for the past year, according to the Constitution and legal experts.
"For repeal, the power of Parliament is the same as enacting a law under the Constitution," explained former Union Law Secretary P K Malhotra. "When a repeal bill is passed, it is also a law," observed Malhotra.
The government will have to bring a bill to repeal the three laws. "There is no other way," said former Lok Sabha Secretary General P D T Acharya.
Responding to a query, Acharya said the government can repeal the three laws through a single repealing bill. In the statement of objects and reason of the bill, the government can mention the reasons why it intends to repeal the three laws, he said.
The three agri laws have not been implemented, but the fact remains that they are laws passed by Parliament which have received assent of the President, said Malhotra, noting that they can be repealed by Parliament alone.