Parliament – Sessions, Procedures, Motions, Committees etc

Legal challenges the Farm Acts could face

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : List 2 and List 3 of the Constitution

Mains level : Paper 2- Legal challenges Agri Acts 2020 could face

Farm Acts passed by the Parliament could face the legal hurdle in the court when challenged on its constitutional basis. This article explains the issue.

Background

  • Recently, Parliament passed three acts related to agriculture. These Acts are-
  • 1) The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020.
  • 2) The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020.
  • 3) The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.
  • This has led to the question: Does the Union government have the authority to legislate on what are rightfully the affairs of States?

Why agriculture is considered as States’ prerogative

  • Agriculture is a State subject in the Constitution, listed as Entry 14 in the State List (List II).
  • Entry 26 in the State List refers to “trade and commerce within the State”.
  • Entry 27 in the State List refers to “production, supply and distribution of goods”.
  • Entry 28 refers to “markets and fairs”.
  • For these reasons, intra-State marketing in agriculture was always considered a legislative prerogative of States.

What was the legal basis used by the Parliament to pass the Farm Acts

  • The central government invoked Entry 33 in the Concurrent List (List III).
  • Entry 26 and 27 in List II are listed as “subject to the provisions of Entry 33 of List III”.

Entry 33 in List III: Trade and commerce in, and the production, supply and distribution of, — (a) the products of any industry where the control of such industry by the Union is declared by Parliament by law to be expedient in the public interest, and imported goods of the same kind as such products; (b) foodstuffs, including edible oilseeds and oils; (c) cattle fodder, including oilcakes and other concentrates; (d) raw cotton, whether ginned or unginned, and cotton seed; and (e) raw jute.

Historical background of  “Entry 33” of Concurrent List

  • Entry 33, in its present form, was inserted in List III through the Constitution (Third Amendment) Act, 1954 after heated constitutional debates.
  • The contention of the dissent was the following:
  • As per Article 369 in the original version of the Constitution, 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.
  • The 1954 Amendment attempted to change this into a permanent feature in the Constitution.
  • According to dissident “if matters enumerated in Article 369 in were placed in List III, State autonomy would be rendered illusory and State powers and rights would be progressively pulverised…”.
  • While another dissident argued that “passage of the Bill would transform the Indian Constitution into a “unitary Constitution” instead of a “federal Constitution” and reduce “all the States’ powers into municipal powers”.
  • Notwithstanding the strong dissenting voices, the Bill was passed.

Let’s look into the related Supreme Court Judgments

  • In many of its judgments after 1954, the Supreme Court of India has upheld the legislative powers of States in intra-State agricultural marketing.
  • Most notable was the ruling of the five-judge Constitution Bench in I.T.C. Limited vs. Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) and Others, 2002.
  • The Tobacco Board Act, 1975 had brought the development of the tobacco industry under the Centre.
  • However, Bihar’s APMC Act continued to list tobacco as an agricultural produce.
  • In this case, the question was if the APMC in Monghyr could charge a levy on ITC for the purchase of unprocessed tobacco leaves from growers.
  • An earlier judgment had held that the State APMC Act will be repugnant to the Central Act, and hence was ultra vires.
  • But the Constitution Bench upheld the validity of the State APMC Act, and ruled that market fees can be charged from ITC under the State APMC Act.

Consider the question “Examine the validity of legal basis used by the Parliament to pass the Farm Acts. Why it could face the legal challenge?”

Conclusion

It was unwise on the part of the Centre to use Entry 33 in List III to push the Farm Bills. Such adventurism weakens the spirit of federal cooperation that India needs in this hour of crisis. Second, agriculture is exclusively a State subject.


Back2Basics: Read more about 3 Agricultural Acts passed by the Parliament here-

[Burning Issue] Agricultural Reform Bills, 2020

 

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