As Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar extended support to farmers' protest against the Centre's new farm laws, his two letters to states as the Union Agriculture Minister in the UPA government seeking APMC reforms went viral on Sunday.
In the letters, Pawar had asked chief ministers to amend the APMC Act in their states to allow the private sector to play an important role in the agriculture sector.
This came as Pawar was scheduled to meet President Ram Nath Kovind on December 9 over the ongoing farmers' protest. Farmers are demanding the repeal of three farm laws Parliament had passed in the last session and have called 'Bharat Bandh' on December 8. The NCP has joined other opposition parties in supporting the 'Bharat Bandh' call.
The contents of the letter were revealed by government sources who claimed that the BJP-led NDA government has made the same set of changes in the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act as pushed by Pawar when he was part of the Manmohan Singh-led UPA dispensation. Pawar served as the union agriculture, consumer affairs, food and public distribution minister in the Manmohan Singh government from 2004 to 2014.
Here is what we know about Sharad Pawar's recommendations to the state governments:
In a letter dated August 11, 2010, Sharad Pawar wrote to the then Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit that the agriculture sector needs well-functioning markets to drive growth, employment and economic prosperity in rural area of the country.
"This requires huge investments in marketing infrastructure including cold-chain. And for this, private sector participation is essential, for which an appropriate regulatory and policy environment needs to be in place," his letter said, calling for amending the state APMC Act.
In a letter to the then Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan in 2011, Pawar had underlined the need for investments in post-harvest and marketing infrastructure from the farm gate to the consumer and said "private sector needs to play an important role in this regard".
How is it different from the current changes brought in by the new farm laws?
Journalist Gurdeep Singh Sappal, in a series of tweets in Hindi, listed the set of differences between Pawar's letter and the new laws. Let's have a look on some key points:
1- Pawar advocated implementation of Draft APMC Rules 2007 which empowered state government to declare a market as a special market or a special commodity market, which would work under the market committee while new agriculture bill has excluded agricultural trade from the mandi committee.
2- As per the 2007 amendement, the Market Committee was empowered to collect tax levy, fees, which was within the state's rights. In the new agricultural law, no APMC market or state government can levy tax or fees. (Market Committee of 2007 was suggested on the lines of Market Committee only)
3- In the 2007 rules, the market committee has the authority to resolve the dispute. The farmers committee is represented in the mandi committee. But in the new agricultural law, these rights are with the SDM and officials above.
4- 2007 rules give the right to allot licenses for agricultural trade to the market committee. In the new agricultural law, the Centre has the right to give licenses to these companies, which are not part of the agricultural trade organisation or cooperative society.
5- Under 2007 rules, agricultural trade is with the mandis, which are under the state governments. Under the new law, these rights will remain with the Centre.
6- In 2007 rules, e-trading will be under a regulatory system, which will be connected to the mandi system. Under the new law, the central government may allow big companies to do e-trading, which will be outside the mandi system.
7- The 2007 rules empower market committees to regulate commission agents, traders, brokers, etc. In the new law, the private company which will be involved in agricultural trade, its agents, traders, brokers will be outside the mandi system.
8- 2007 Rules strengthen Mandi Committee, under which the MSP purchase is done. In the new law, mandi system is demolished. APMC will not have any income from private company. Since they are not obliged to buy on MSP, the structure of MSP purchase also ends when mandi system is demolished.
9- There was no change in the provisions against hoarding in 2007 rules. Now the Essential Commodity Act has also been changed. Now the limit on hoarding of cereals, pulses, onions, potatoes, oilseeds, etc. has been lifted.