The unanticipated move in the topic of discussion from the Rafale controversy to agrarian distress in India on the floor of Rajya Sabha on Friday, 19 July, is a prudent and significant reflection of how paramount the issue of agrarian distress in India is.
Undoubtedly, the issue of agrarian distress is multifarious and affects the entire farmer fraternity in a developing country like India, wherein more than half the population earns a livelihood solely from agriculture and related activities. However India has been witnessing the neglect of agriculture by its government, starting from the shift of focus to industrialisation in the post-independence era including the abundantly cruel effect of the Green Revolution, specifically on small and marginal farmers which was arguably the most unsustainable step for agricultural development that India had ever witnessed.
Notwithstanding the fact that India has stepped into the 72nd year of its independence, it is undisputed that agriculturalists i.e. the farmers in India are still being exploited socially, politically and economically. However, as there is no enacted legislation(s) protecting the economic and social interest of an agriculturalist, India is yet to witness the nexus between agriculture and the legislature.
Farmers’ suicides have quadrupled in the period post-2005 specifically in the north-eastern, eastern, western and southern parts of India. Most of these resulted from economic deficits of farmers who were deprived of a chance to provide decent livelihood to themselves and their families.
Hence it is crystal clear that being deprived from having a decent livelihood is deprivation from the most important ‘Right to Life’ enumerated under the Constitution of India.
When one speaks of the farmer’s economic condition, the first and foremost thing that strikes one’s mind is whether a farmer is getting a fair and remunerative price for his harvest, which is commonly known as the Minimum Support Price (MSP)? The answer to the said question will never come in the affirmative, and even if it is so, it will never be an absolute answer.
Notwithstanding this, attempts have been made to render a legislative backup to the issue of MSP. This is clear from a bill that is under pendency in Lok Sabha namely, “The Farmers’ Right to guaranteed remunerative Minimum Support Price for agricultural commodities Bill, 2018,” commonly known as MSP bill. Though this is the first step of the government to provide a legislative back-up to the economic woes of farmers, the essence of the bill shows it has a political flavor without providing vindication and attribution of legal/statutory rights to farmers. All the final determination related powers are being vested with the Central Commission and the State Commission is there to make recommendations to the Central Commission.
Secondly, the Bill vests the Central commission with the power to determine MSP uniformly applicable to all provinces. This is most peculiar as in India different regions have different climatic conditions. As a consequence it would be pragmatic to accept that the cost of production, which is of paramount importance in determining the MSP, varies from region to region. So, too, should the MSP.
Thirdly and most importantly, Section 10(1) (b) of the MSP bill empowers the Central commission to add additional social and environmental imperatives to the MSP, which is quite uncertain and ambiguous. At the same time Section 7 empowers the State commission to add bonus to the MSP prescribed by the Central commission. These provisions are unwelcome as the party ruling at the Centre may use the Central commission as a political instrument and instigate the play of vote bank politics over the party ruling the provincial government.
In addition to that, the bill should have focused on strengthening the grievance redressal forum by enumerating separate provisions relating to free legal aid, the procedure for making complaints, disposal of complaints and the execution thereof, the burden of proof, appellate jurisdiction etc.
Having discussed this, it becomes prudent to say that overall this bill is a welcome initiative for Indian agriculturalists as it intends to provide legal backup to the interest of farmers. However, this bill is lacking in the prudent distribution of power between the Centre and the states. The political inclination towards the Centre and the tendency to ignore the state government will make agriculturalists the ultimate losers.
Hence, for this writer at least, it is clear that this bill, if gets the shape of an enactment, will aggravate the present agrarian distress rather than mitigate it. The legislature must proceed with caution.
The writer is a L.LM candidate at the National Law University, Odisha.