The capital of the country is under siege. The farmers of some of the northern states of India are protesting against the recently passed Agricultural Reform Acts. The most discussed topic is the possible plight of the poor farmers after implementation of these acts. The supporters and opposers of the acts are evenly divided but there is a feeling that the acts have been rushed through and the country should have been given more time.
It would seem impossible if we were told that these acts are only a culmination of the process that started, not one or two, but twenty years back.
Do we really need more time than that?
Let us look at the genesis of the Acts over the years.
2000-2003 (NDA GOVERNMENT LED BY PRIME MINISTER A.B. VAJPAYEE)
Shankarlal Guru Expert Committee was appointed in December 2000 to suggest ways and means to make Agriculture marketing system more efficient. The committee submitted its report in June 2001.
To examine these recommendations, the Agriculture Ministry constituted an Inter-Ministerial Task Force in July 2001 which submitted its report in June 2002.
The steps recommended by this task force included:
• Removal of restrictive provisions hindering a competitive marketing system
• Promotion of direct marketing
• Encouragement of contract farming
• Rationalization of Market fee and tax structure
• Facilitate National Integrated Market
These recommendations resulted in the passage of the Model APMC Act 2003 which encouraged the state governments to amend their individual state acts in accordance with this model act.
2004-2014 (UPA GOVERNMENT LED BY DR. MANMOHAN SINGH)
Ministry of Agriculture formulated a Model APMC Rules 2007, based on the APMC Act of 2003, and called for their adoption by the various state governments.
Various states such as Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra, ruled by different parties (Congress, BJP and others), adopted the Model APMC Act of 2003 at different times between 2005 to 2011.
UPA government set up the M.S. Swaminathan chaired National Commission on Agriculture in 2006, which recommended promotion of Unified National Market.
Minister of Agriculture, Sharad Pawar, constituted an Empowered Committee in March 2010, on Agri-marketing reforms under the Chairmanship of Harshwardhan Patil, (A minister of State Government of Maharashtra led by Congress Party) and 10 State Ministers.
Parallelly, Sharad Pawar personally wrote to all Chief Ministers in August 2010, urging them to implement the reforms on the lines of the model APMC Act 2003. Among other things, the letter written by Sharad Pawar said, “the need to amend the present APMC act on the lines of Model APMC Act 2003 to encourage the private sector in providing alternative competitive marketing channels in the overall interest of farmers/producers and consumers cannot be overemphasized”.
Sharad Pawar echoed the same sentiment again while responding to a question in the Rajya Sabha on agriculture marketing reforms in May 2012, when he stated that “there are some (reforms) which have already been accepted, for instance, recommendation regarding liberalizing agri-procurement…We have requested all the Cooperation Ministers in the States to make amendment in the APMC Act.”
The Patil Committee, which had been set up in 2010 submitted its report in 2013 which among other things, suggested simplification of procedure of contract farming, investment in development of post-harvest infrastructure, barrier free national markets, waiving off of market fee on fruits and vegetables etc.
Spokesperson (BJP Chandigarh)
(the opinions expressed by author are his own)