Govt's changes to farm Acts will take us back to square one: Experts

Farmers sit on a tractor as they listen to a speaker during a protest against the newly passed farm Acts, at Singhu border near New Delhi, on Wednesday Photo: Reuters
The central government’s proposed changes to the farm Acts to assuage protesting farmers will dilute the existing legislations but restore states’ powers of framing rules on agriculture marketing as was proposed in model Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Acts circulated since 2003, experts feel.

The proposed changes, which were rejected by the agitating farmers on Wednesday, include giving states the right to frame rules to register private mandis and also levy fees or cess on par with the existing APMCs.

However, it does not give states powers to charge fees on all transactions outside mandis. The proposals also indicate that the Centre might consider giving states power to frame rules for registering new traders who will trade outside mandis. On the dispute resolution mechanism, the proposed changes include giving farmers powers to appeal in any civil court if they are not satisfied with the decision given under the existing provisions.

“If these dilutions are carried out then the whole essence of providing a free market and reforming the agricultural markets will be lost. If someone taxes outside mandis private trader, then the whole situation is back to square one,” Mahendra Dev, director of Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, told Business Standard.

He said even earlier just around 30-40 per cent of farm produce went through the mandi, while the rest was sold outside and the farm Acts were meant to ensure that the produce sold outside remains out of the purview of taxes, but the proposal negates all that. “Then what was the need for bringing the acts in the first place,” Dev said.

However, Sukhpal Singh, professor and chairperson in the Centre for Management of Agriculture at IIM-Ahmedabad, had a different take. He said the amendments are similar to those proposed in the first model APMC Bill of 2003.

In that, too, states had powers to tax new markets, register new players under bylaws. He said any amendment is meant to dilute the original provisions of an Act.

Singh said the one big change that has been proposed by the Centre’s is allowing farmers to approach civil courts if they are not satisfied with the decision given by the existing authority. “This I feel wasn’t there in the original model APMC Act as well that was circulated among states,” he said.

“I have always felt that the first model APMC Act circulated in 2003 was a better piece of legislation as it gave adequate power to the states to do farm marketing reforms, which the new Acts sought to take back. But, with the proposed changes, the scenario is once again coming back to what prevailed earlier,” Singh said.

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