A Congress MP from Kerala moved the Supreme Court on Monday challenging the constitutional validity of various provisions of the contentious new farm Act. T N Prathapan, who represents Thrissur Lok Sabha constituency in Kerala, has alleged that the Farmers' (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 is violative of right to equality (Article 14), prohibition of discrimination (15) and right to life and liberty (21) of the Constitution.
The law, which provides for contract farming and was accorded presidential assent on Sunday, is "liable to be struck down as unconstitutional, illegal and void", Prathapan claimed. As per the government, the new law intends to provide a national framework for farm agreements to protect and empower farmers while engaging with agri-and food processing firms, wholesalers, exporters and large retailers for farm services and sale of produce at a remunerative price framework in a fair and transparent manner.
Prathapan, in the plea filed through lawyer James P Thomas, referred to the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Model Act of 2003 and said that it was introduced to fulfil two principles meant to ensure that no farmer is exploited by intermediaries and all food produced is brought to a common market to sell through auction. Without APMC acting as a protective shield around the farmers, the market would ultimately fall to the corporate greed of multinational companies who are more profit oriented and have no care for the conditions of the poverty stricken farmers who are dependent on farming for their livelihood, the plea said.
The APMC deterred the exploitation of farmers by providing Minimum Support Price (MSP) which guarantees that the farmer who comes to the APMC would not leave empty handed, it said. "Indian Agriculture is characterised by fragmentation due to small holdings and has certain inherent weaknesses beyond control such as dependence on weather, uncertainties in production and an unpredictable market. This makes agriculture risky and inefficient in respect of both input and output management," the plea said.
It said the challenges faced by farmers such as dependence on weather cannot be addressed by monetisation of the produce to increase their income, instead of strengthening the APMC system by infusing more capital and effective management of MSP. The plea said that the common man, agriculture and the Indian economy are umbilical to one another.
The promotion of agreements for farming produce will weaken the process of monetisation as per the current structure of the Act... Through the provisions mentioned in the above noted act, de-risking of agriculture as claimed by the Government at various stages is wrong on the analysis of the provisions enacted, it said. The petition challenged the constitutionality of various Sections of the farm law -- 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 13, 14, 18 and 19.
Some parts of the country have been witnessing farmer protests on the issue in view of the alleged apprehension that the law would pave a way for the dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the "mercy" of big companies.