1.Amid fierce protests, Rajya Sabha passes two farm Bills
Govt. should send them to Select Committee for scrutiny, say Opposition parti
- Two of the three agriculture-related legislation piloted by the Narendra Modi government, aimed at liberalising the farm sector, were passed by the Rajya Sabha by voice vote on Sunday amid a din as the Opposition parties, enraged by the refusal of Deputy Chairman Harivansh to allow voting on resolutions they moved, broke microphones, stood up on tables and flung papers in the air.
- The legislation — the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, were cleared by the Lok Sabha last week.
Death warrant: Congress
- The Rajya Sabha saw a peaceful debate till 1 p.m., when the proceedings were scheduled to end. The Congress, the Trinamool Congress, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the Samajwadi Party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Aam Aadmi Party and the two Left parties vehemently opposed the Bills, asking the government to send them to a Parliament panel for further scrutiny.
- Congress MP Pratap Singh Bajwa said his party would not sign the “death warrant” of farmers.
- Among the BJP allies and friendly parties, the JD(U) and the YSR Congress supported the Bills. The AIADMK spoke against the Bills, with MP S.R. Balasubramoniyan calling them a way to “disinvest” in agriculture. Biju Janata Dal MP Amar Patnaik said the Bills had good intent but ignored the implementation problems. He asked the government to send them to a Select Committee.
New Agriculture Bills and opposition to it
Three Bills on agriculture reforms were introduced in the Parliament to replace the ordinances issued during the lockdown
- The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020
- The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020
- The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020
Do You Know?
- Farmers and farmer associations across the country have protested against the ordinances. The tractor protest by farmers of Punjab and Haryana in July was in opposition to these.
- The Punjab Assembly on August 28 passed a resolution rejecting the Centre’s ordinances.
What do the ordinances entail?
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance has following provisions
- Opens up agricultural sale and marketing outside the notified Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis for farmers
- Removes barriers to inter-State trade
- Provides a framework for electronic trading of agricultural produce.
- Prohibits State governments from collecting market fee, cess or levy for trade outside the APMC markets.
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance relates to contract farming. It has following provisions
- Provides framework on trade agreements for the sale and purchase of farm produce.
- The mutually agreed remunerative price framework envisaged in the legislation is touted as one that would protect and empower farmers.
- The written farming agreement, entered into prior to the production or rearing of any farm produce, lists the terms and conditions for supply, quality, grade, standards and price of farm produce and services.
The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance
- Removes cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes from the list of essential commodities. The amendment will deregulate the production, storage, movement and distribution of these food commodities.
- The central government is allowed regulation of supply during war, famine, extraordinary price rise and natural calamity, while providing exemptions for exporters and processors at such times as well.
- Imposition of any stock limit on agricultural produce must be based on price rise. A stock limit may be imposed only if there is a 100% increase in retail price of horticultural produce; and a 50% increase in the retail price of non-perishable agricultural food items
Why are these bills being opposed?
- Against the Spirit of Cooperative federalism
- Since agriculture and markets are State subjects – entry 14 and 28 respectively in List II – the ordinances are being seen as a direct encroachment upon the functions of the States
- The provisions are viewed as against the spirit of cooperative federalism enshrined in the Constitution.
- Justification by Centre: The Centre, however, argues that trade and commerce in food items is part of the concurrent list, thus giving it constitutional propriety.
- End of MSP
- Critics view the dismantling of the monopoly of the APMCs as a sign of ending the assured procurement of food grains at minimum support prices (MSP).
- To the Centre’s ‘one nation, one market’ call, critics have sought ‘one nation, one MSP’.
- Critics argue that ensuring a larger number of farmers get the MSP for their produce and addressing weakness in the APMCs, instead of making these State mechanisms redundant is the need of the hour.
- No mechanism for price fixation
- The Price Assurance Bill, while offering protection to farmers against price exploitation, does not prescribe the mechanism for price fixation.
- There is apprehension that the free hand given to private corporate houses could lead to farmer exploitation.
- Critics are apprehensive about formal contractual obligations owing to the unorganised nature of the farm sector and lack of resources for a legal battle with private corporate entities.
- Food security undermined
- Easing of regulation of food items would lead to exporters, processors and traders hoarding farm produce during the harvest season, when prices are generally lower, and releasing it later when prices increase.
- This could undermine food security since the States would have no information about the availability of stocks within the State.
- Critics anticipate irrational volatility in the prices of essentials and increased black marketing.
2. Govt. tables Bill to amend FCRA
Bid to enhance transparency; it will make Aadhaar mandatory
- The Centre is set to amend the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act and proposes to make Aadhaar a mandatory identification document for all the office-bearers, directors and other key functionaries of an NGO or an association eligible to receive foreign donations.
- The Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2020, was introduced in the Lok Sabha on Sunday by Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai.
- The Bill says the amendment is required to enhance transparency and accountability in the receipt and utilisation of foreign contributions worth thousands of crores of rupees every year and facilitating the “genuine” non-governmental organisations or associations who are working for the welfare of society.
- The Bill proposes to include “public servant” and “corporation owned or controlled by the government” among the list of entities who are not eligible to receive foreign donations, the draft says.
Bars public servants
- “Amendment of clause (c) of sub-section (1) of section 3 to include public servant also within its ambit, to provide that no foreign contribution shall be accepted by any public servant,” the Bill says.
- In 2016, the Home Ministry had cancelled the licence of Lawyers Collective, run by noted lawyers Indira Jaising and Anand Grover for various violations. The Ministry, in its suspension notice, had said that Ms. Jaising — as a government servant — had received foreign funds over ₹96 crore when she held the post of Additional Solicitor General (ASG) between the years 2009 and 2014, in violation of FCRA norms.
Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA)
Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) came into news when Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) raided offices of Amnesty International (NGO) for its alleged irregularities in foreign funding, in violation with the provisions of FCRA 2010.
Introduction to FCRA 1976, FCRA 2010
On 31st March 1976, FCRA was enacted with an aim to regulate the utilization of foreign contributions/hospitality by individuals, associations to keep it consistent with the values of sovereign, democratic republic. The FCRA was enacted in 1976 in order to maintain strict control over voluntary organisations and political associations that received foreign fundings. In the year 1984, an amendment was made to the act requiring all the Non Governmental Organisations to register themselves with the Home Ministry. In 2010, the act was repealed and a new act with strict provisions was enacted.
FCRA 2010 is a consolidating act passed by the Government of India in the year 2010. It seeks to regulate the foreign contributions or donations and hospitality (air travel, hotel accommodation etc) to Indian organizations and individuals and to stop such contributions which might damage the national interest. It is an act passed for regulating and prohibiting the acceptance and utilization of foreign contribution or foreign hospitality by companies, associations or individuals for such activities that could prove to be detrimental to the national interest and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.
Since the Act is internal security legislation, despite being a law related to financial legislation, it falls into the purview of Home Ministry and not the Reserve Bank of India (RBI).
Need for FCRA
The act aims at keeping a check on foreigners influencing the Indian electoral politics, journalists, public servants etc. for wrong purposes or activities detrimental to the public interest. Those violating the provisions of FCRA can be jailed up to a term of 5 years.
Salient features of FCRA 2010
Here is a brief introduction to the provisions of the FCRA 2010:
- A provision was made for the cancellation of registrations of NGOs if the Home Ministry believes that the organisation is political and not neutral.
- The registration certificate granted to the NGOs under the 2010 act came with a five year validity.
- A provision was inserted stating that the assets of the person who has become defunct needs to be disposed off in a manner stated by the government.
- A separate account needs to be maintained by the organisations to deposit the Foreign Contributions received and no other funds except for Foreign Contributions shall be deposited in that account.
- Every bank would be obligated to report to the prescribed authority, the amount of foreign remittances received and other related details such as the source, manner of receipt etc.
Who can accept Foreign Contribution?
Organizations working for definite cultural, social, economic, educational or religious programs, if and only if they are
- Registered with the Home Ministry
- Maintaining a seperate account listing the donations received from foreigners, getting it audited by a Chartered Accountant and submitting it to the Home Ministry, every year.
Who are debarred from receiving Foreign Contribution?
- Candidate contesting an election
- Cartoonist, editor, publishers of registered newspaper
- Government servants or employee of any corporation
- Member of any legislature
- Political parties
It is a relevant topic for the UPSC Exam 2020 and falls under the topic “Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization of resources, growth, development and employment” in General Studies Paper 3. It is important to keep reading newspaper articles and editorials on this subject as it can be asked directly or indirectly in the IAS exam. Since there is a plethora of information on this subject, candidates should keep a note of all the points and material they have on this subject neatly classified.
3. ‘Make ethics code must for all news channels’
Broadcasters’ body files affidavit in SC
- The News Broadcasters Association (NBA) has told the Supreme Court to make its code of ethics against airing malicious, biased and regressive content applicable to all TV news channels.
- For this, the NBA suggested that the court direct the government to include its ethical code in the Programme Code of the Cable Television Networks Rules, 1994. All news channels, whether they are NBA members or not, will then have to follow the Programme Code containing the proposed amendments.
- The NBA affidavit is in response to an order by the Supreme Court on September 18 to suggest steps to strengthen the self-regulatory mechanism to prevent or penalise airing of communal or derogatory content on electronic media.
- The order by a Bench led by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud was in the background of a plea to stop the telecast of a programme ‘Bindas Bol’ on Sudarshan TV containing objectionable content against the Muslim entries into the civil services. The court said the content was prima facie “plainly hurtful to the community. It is an affront to the dignity of the community.” The court said the NBA was “toothless” and its penalties hardly a deterrence for channels.
- The NBA said the News Broadcasters Services Authority (NBSA) should be granted recognition as an “independent self-regulatory mechanism” to receive and deal with complaints.
News Broadcasting Standards Authority (NBSA)
- It is an independent body (free from any interference from NBA) for self-regulation of 24×7 news channels, who are members of NBA. It is basically a self-regulatory mechanism which was set up by News Broadcasters Association (NBA).
- The aim behind setting NBSA was to improve broadcasting standards and adhere to Code of Ethics (to regulate television content) that were adopted by NBA in November 2007.
- NBSA act as an in-house regulator discharges function as a watchdog.
- It decides about complaints made against any member broadcasters who might have allegedly violated (or offended) Code of Ethics, Guidelines and Advisories that are issued from time to time.
- NBSA is empowered to censure, warn, express disapproval, admonish, and penalize the broadcaster with a fine of sum upto Rs. 1 lakh for violation of Code.
- The Broadcast Editors’ Association, is another such organization.
- The Advertising Standards Council of India has also drawn certain guidelines on content of advertisements.
- These groups do not have any statutory powers and are govern through agreements.
4. It’s a no green signal from the farm world
There is good reason why opposition to the agriculture Bills may be a reflection of the genuine concerns of farmers
- In a virtual rally, the Prime Minister blamed the Opposition parties for misleading farmers about the three Bills on agriculture, in Parliament. While the Opposition may have taken up the cudgels recently, the fact is that farmers have been protesting against the Bills ever since it was promulgated as ordinances in June. These are The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020. The resignation of Food Processing Industries Minister (and Shiromani Akali Dal MP), Harsimrat Kaur Badal, from the Union Cabinet, and dissenting voices from various mass organisations affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh suggest that the opposition to the Bills may not be politically motivated; rather, it may be a reflection of the genuine concerns of farmers.
- In brief, the Bills aim to do away with government interference in agricultural trade by creating trading areas free of middlemen and government taxes outside the structure of Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs) along with removing restrictions of private stockholding of agricultural produce. Attempts to reform the APMC are not new and have been part of the agenda of successive governments for the last two decades. Most farmer organisations also agree that there is excessive political interference and there is need for reform as far as functioning of mandis are concerned.
- Several reforms at the level of the central government as well as at the State level have been introduced and welcomed by farmers. However, in this particular case, the issue is not about the Bills; it is also about the process of their introduction. As was pointed out by Ms. Badal, the government has failed to have or hold any discussion with the various stakeholders including farmers and middlemen. This is also true when it comes to consultation with State governments even though the subject of trade and agriculture are part of subjects on the State list. The attempt to pass the Bills without proper consultation adds to the mistrust among various stakeholders including State governments. While the lack of consultation has certainly added to the element of mistrust between the government and farmers, some of the issues raised by farmer organisations are also genuine; recent trends in agricultural prices and incomes have only confirmed these fears.
- While farmer organisations see these Bills as part of the larger agenda of corporatisation of agriculture and a withdrawal of government support, the immediate concern has been the attempt to weaken the APMC mandis and eventual withdrawal of the Minimum Support Prices (MSP) guaranteed by the government. Although the government has clarified that these Bills do not imply withdrawal of procurement by the State at MSP, there is a genuine fear among farmers about the true intentions of the government. The mistrust is not unfounded given the track record of this government on many issues including demonetisation of 2016, the introduction of Goods and Services Tax and so on. There may not be direct evidence of crony capitalism, but the entry, in a big way, of two of the biggest corporate groups (Adani and Reliance) in food and agricultural retail and the timing of the Bills have not gone unnoticed.
Reflects poor understanding
- The idea of allowing greater participation of traders and farmers outside the APMC has already been in place in different form. Even otherwise, APMCs account for less than a fourth of total agricultural trade. But APMCs do play an important role of price discovery essential for agricultural trade and production choices. The vilification of APMCs and the middlemen who facilitate trade in these mandis is a poor reflection of the understanding of functioning of agricultural markets. The middlemen are a part of the larger ecosystem of agricultural trade, with deep links between farmers and traders. Most farmers are familiar with the functioning of mandis and see it as an essential part of agricultural trade despite shortcomings. While the proposed Bills do not do away with the APMC mandis, the preference for corporate interests at the cost of farmers’ interests and a lack of regulation in these non-APMC mandis are cause for concern. The absence of any regulation in non-APMC mandis is being seen as a precursor to the withdrawal of the guarantee of MSP-based procurement.
The Bihar example
- The dominant concern in this regard has been expressed by farmers in Punjab and Haryana. Farmers in these States have genuine concern about the continuance of the MSP-based public procurement given the large-scale procurement operations in these States. These fears gain strength with the experience of States such as Bihar which abolished APMCs in 2006. After the abolition of mandis, farmers in Bihar on average received lower prices compared to the MSP for most crops. For example, as against the MSP of ₹1,850 a quintal for maize, most farmers in Bihar reported selling their produce at less than ₹1,000 a quintal. Despite the shortcomings and regional variations, farmers still see the APMC mandis as essential to ensuring the survival of MSP regime.
- While retail prices have remained high, data from the Wholesale Price Index (WPI) suggest a deceleration in farm gate prices for most agricultural produce. This has happened despite increased procurement through the MSP-based regime for paddy and wheat. Decline in basmati rice prices by more than 30% and despite higher international prices suggests the limitation of market intervention in raising farm gate prices. For most crops where MSP-led procurement is non-existent, the decline has been sharper. Even cash crops such as cotton have seen a collapse in prices in the absence of government intervention. With rising input costs, farmers do not see the market providing them remunerative prices. At the same time, ad hoc interventions by government such as raising import duties on masur and a ban on onion exports also raise suspicion about the intent of the government to leave the price discovery mechanism on the market. The protests by farmers are essentially a reflection of the mistrust between farmers and the stated objective of these reforms.