Chandigarh: Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh Tuesday piloted the passage of three legislations in the assembly that seek to negate the impact of the controversial farm laws passed by Parliament last month. The assembly also passed a fourth bill drawn from the 2017 Congress manifesto that promises to protect landholdings of up to 2.5 acres from attachment if farmers fail to pay off their debt.
Among other things, the three state farm bills make MSP — the minimum support price for different products, meant to guarantee farmers a certain price for their produce — a legal provision, addressing one of the main grievances of those protesting against the central laws.
The assembly also passed a resolution seeking annulment of the central farm laws, as well as the promulgation of a fresh ordinance making the procurement of foodgrains on MSP a statutory right of the farmers
The bills include the Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services (Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2020, and the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) (Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2020.
These two legislations seek to amend the central laws on price assurance and include a provision on punishment for sale/purchase below MSP, as well as farmer harassment. They also provide for a fee to be levied on traders, or electronic trading and transaction platforms, for trade and commerce in a trade area outside the APMC mandis. This will disable a key provision in the central laws that seeks to allow farmers to sell their produce outside the mandis.
To protect consumers from hoarding and black-marketing of agricultural produce, the state government has brought in the Essential Commodities (Special Provisions and Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2020.
The bill empowers the state to impose stock limits under extraordinary circumstances, such as famine, price rise etc, as opposed to the central Act, which tasks the Union government with this role.
The fourth legislation is the Code of Civil Procedure (Punjab Amendment) Bill, 2020, which promises relief to farmers from attachment of plots measuring below 2.5 acres in case they fail to pay off debt.
The bill seeks to exempt agricultural land of this area from Section 60 of the Code of Civil Procedure, 1908, which provides for attachment of properties, moveable and immoveable.
The two lone BJP MLAs in the assembly were absent from the session.
After the bills were cleared by the assembly, Amarinder led an all-party delegation to Raj Bhavan, where they handed the legislations to Punjab Governor V.P.S. Badnore, to be forwarded to the President. Asked about the possibility of the central government imposing President’s Rule in the state in light of the bills’ passage, Amarinder said he was ready to resign.
Since the bills seek to challenge central government provisions, the governor will first take a call on the legislations and then forward them to the President, under Article 254 of the Constitution (dealing with differences between central and state legislations), for final approval.
Won’t ‘bow to injustice’ to farmers
Presenting the bills for consideration on the second day of a special assembly session Tuesday, Amarinder said he was prepared to resign or be dismissed, instead of “bowing to injustice towards Punjab’s farmers”.
“In the name of farming laws, we have actually enacted trade laws. It is not farmers who will have access to a national market, but traders. Hence, the use of term ‘trade area’ in the so-called farmers legislations is also very telling,” said Amarinder.
Talking to mediapersons outside the Raj Bhavan later in the day, Amarinder said that he is optimistic that the President and the Governor will listen to the voice of Punjab, but added that his government is all set to take legal recourse if the bills are not approved.
The Chief Minister said he had sought time from the President of India between 2 and 5 November, and all Punjab legislators will together go to him to seek “his intervention in the interest of the state”.
Asked about the possibility of President’s Rule in Punjab, Amarinder said if such a situation came to pass, the central government would not need to dismiss him since he was “carrying my resignation in my pocket and will give it willingly”.
The road ahead
Talking to The Print, Punjab Advocate General Atul Nanda said the bills now have to be signed and forwarded by the governor to the President for his assent. “Given the fact that agitating farmers are on the streets in Punjab, the governor is expected to send these to the President soonest,” he said.
Asked about the road likely afterwards, he said the President can “sit on the bills” after that, “but considering that the bills have been passed by all the parties unanimously (barring BJP) in the assembly, it is hoped that he will take a broader view”.
If the President does not give his assent or seems to be taking too long, Nanda said, the Punjab government will “move either the high court or the Supreme Court after a reasonable amount of time”.
Senior Punjab and Haryana High Court lawyer Anupam Gupta said there was no question of the central government taking action against the Punjab government by way of President’s Rule or otherwise.
“Agriculture, having been consciously kept by the founding fathers as an exclusively provincial subject (entry 14 of the state list in the seventh schedule), the Punjab legislature did itself and the nation proud today in defence of the Constitution,” he added.
“The two principal farm laws recently enacted by the Centre (apart from the Essential Commodities Amendment Act) are patently ultra vires and unconstitutional since Parliament is simply not competent to legislate on the subject of agriculture,” he said. “The central government’s daring defiance of express constitutional limitations in enacting these two laws is unprincipled in the extreme. Punjab has taken the first step today to restore the balance of the Constitution.”
“Our metro-heavy urban-centric inteligentsia must seriously ponder over the grave constitutional implications of the central farm laws. Violation of fundamental rights is bad enough for any government, central or state. Disregard of legislative competence is tragic.” Gupta added.