New Delhi: A Parliament Standing Committee, comprising MPs of parties that have been vehemently opposing the three new farm laws, has asked for implementation of Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 — one of the three controversial laws — in “letter and spirit”.
The Standing Committee on Food, headed by Trinamool Congress MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay, has members such as Bhagwant Mann from AAP, who had even raised slogans against the laws in the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In its report tabled in the Lok Sabha Friday, the panel recommended the government to implement the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
It said, “There is a need to create an environment based on ease of doing business and for removing the fear of frequent statutory controls under the Essential Commodities Act in order to boost immediate investment in the agriculture sector, increase competition and enhance farmers’ income”.
Both TMC and AAP, along with other parties such as Congress, Shiv Sena, have been demanding a repeal of all the three farm laws brought by the Centre last year.
However, soon after the report was made public Saturday, Congress MP Saptagiri Sankar Ulaka, from Koraput in Odisha, wrote to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and said he didn’t want to be associated with the committee’s latest recommendation.
Written to Hon'ble @loksabhaspeaker to dissociate myself from the Eleventh Report of the Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution on the subject matter – 'Price Rise of Essential Commodities – Causes and Effects' tabled in Parliament on 19.03.2021. pic.twitter.com/qsuh5KC8tt
— Saptagiri Ulaka (@saptagiriulaka) March 20, 2021
In his letter, Ulaka argued that “the subject of essential commodities-causes and effects was taken up by the committee much before the three farm ordinances and the related farm laws were passed”.
He said the matter was discussed by the committee over three days, on 5 and 19 January in 2019 and again on 16 January 2020. The MP alleged that the draft report on the subject was “circulated only via email to the Related Section of the committee” at 7 pm on 17 March and adopted the next day under acting chairperson Ajay Mishra Teni.
Ulaka said he was absent when the report was adopted as the meeting took place in a short span of 15 hours. He urged the lok sabha speaker that he be dissociated from a line in page 62 of the report where the committee has recommended implementing the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 in “letter and spirit”.
The parliamentarian also noted that the essential commodity act infringes on federalism, and encourages hoarding and black marketing.
Ulaka further pointed out that the committee did not seek oral evidence from any farmer group or independent expert before finalising the report. “It is not only misleading to the nation but also against the norms and convention of the functioning and the democratic spirit of the parliamentary standing committee,” his letter stated.
Thousands of farmers primarily from Punjab and Haryana have been camping at the Delhi borders for months now, demanding a complete repeal of the laws.
In the report, the committee cited recommendations from chief ministers of various states like Punjab, Maharashtra, Odisha, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh to call for an effective implementation of the farm law.
It also cited suggestions from a High-Powered Committee for Transformation of Indian Agriculture, comprising officials of the Department of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare and NITI Aayog.
The panel said, “Farmers have been unable to get better prices of their produce due to lack of investment in cold storage, warehouses, processing and export as entrepreneurs were discouraged by the regulatory mechanisms in the older Essential Commodities Act, 1955”.
In the report, the committee also said infrastructure building was discouraged by the previous Essential Commodity Act, which resulted in farmers suffering huge losses when there were bumper harvests, especially of perishable commodities, much of which could have been reduced with adequate processing facilities.
ThePrint reached both Bandyopadhyay and Mann through text messages and calls for a comment, but there was no response till the time of publishing this report.
Mann raised slogans in PM’s presence
Mann, addressing a press conference in December 2020, said he raised slogans in front of PM Modi, demanding an immediate rollback of the laws.
“We wanted to reach out to the prime minister and tell him about the demands of farmers. AAP MP Shri Sanjay Singh and I raised slogans, demanding MSP law, the rollback of these black laws and others. We were also carrying posters on these demands made by farmers,” Mann had said.
He further claimed there is a nexus between the Congress and the BJP as the opposition party is protesting only to show off. That’s why Congress leaders present in the Central Hall did not raise their issues, he had claimed.
In the report, the committee expects that the recently enacted ‘The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020’ “will become a catalyst for unlocking vast untapped resources in the agriculture sector by creating an environment for enhanced investments in agriculture sector, fair and productive competition in agricultural marketing and increase farmers’ income”.
However, the committee noted that food items such as potato, onions and pulses are part of a common man’s daily diet and that lakhs of people who do not get the benefits of Public Distribution System (PDS) may suffer adversely in the aftermath of the implementation of the new Act.
The committee wanted the government to continue to keep a constant watchful eye on the prices of all essential commodities and to resort to the remedial provisions provided in the Act when called for.
It further asked the government to take all necessary steps to streamline the free movement of essential commodities to ensure affordable prices of such items for all citizens.
(Edited by Debalina Dey)
This copy has been updated to add Congress MP Saptagiri Sankar Ulaka’s stand on the matter.