Three Farm Acts and their constitutional debate.

Source: The Hindu

Syllabus: Gs3: Issues and Challenges Pertaining to the Federal Structure, Devolution of Powers

Context: The passage of the three Farm Acts has raised a constitutional debate on Union’s powers to legislate on state subjects.

What are the three contentious farm bills?

  • The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020.
  • The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020,
  • The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

What is the controversy around Entry 33 in concurrent list?

Following subjects are on the state list:
Agriculture
Trade and commerce within the State, production, supply and distribution of goods

Markets and fairs are enumerated as states subject.

  • However, the trade and commerce within the State (Entry 26) & production, supply and distribution of goods (Entry 27) are subjected to the provisions of Entry 33 of concurrent list after the 3rd amendment act, 1954.
  • As per Article 369, the responsibility of agricultural trade and commerce within a State was temporarily entrusted to the Union government for a period of five years beginning from 1950.  However, the 1954 Amendment changed this into a permanent feature in the Constitution.
    Despite many opposed, stating that the Bill would lead to an expanding encroachment on the rights of the States the Bill was passed. Now the same Entry 33 was invoked to encroach the powers of the States.
  • What are the directives given by supreme court in I.T.C. Limited vs.

Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) case 2002?

  • The development of the tobacco industry was brought under the Centre through the Tobacco Board Act, 1975.
    However, Bihar’s APMC Act continued to list tobacco as an agricultural produce.
  • In this case, the question was if the APMC could charge a levy on ITC for the purchase of unprocessed tobacco leaves from growers.
    The then Constitution Bench upheld the validity of the State APMC Act, and provided some important directives :
    Market fees can be charged from ITC under the State APMC Act
    State laws become repugnant only if the State and Centre enact laws on the same subject matter under an Entry in List III.
  • In those cases, outside List III, one has to first examine if the subject matter was an exclusive entry under List I or List II, and only after determining this can one decide on the dominant legislation that would prevail.
  • How the directives of supreme court related to present Farm Acts of 2020?
    In the case of the Farm Acts of 2020, the applicable points are (a) and (c).
    With regard to (a), States could continue to charge mandi taxes from private markets anywhere in the notified area regardless of the Central Act.
    With regard to (c), the State legislation should prevail as agriculture is an exclusive subject matter under Entry 14 in List II.

Why the recent Farm Acts are said to have poor legal validity?

Centre to use Entry 33 in List III to push the Farm Bills weakens the spirit of cooperative federalism.

  • Second, agriculture is exclusively a State subject. Everything that is subsidiary to an exclusive subject in List II should also fall under the exclusive legislative purview of States.
  • Most importantly, Entry 28 in List II markets and fairs is not subject to Entry 33 in List III.
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