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‘After Punjab, now Rajasthan introduces bills to negate impact of Centre’s farm laws’

  • Category
    Polity
  • Published
    10th Nov, 2020

The Rajasthan Assembly passed three Bills to stop the applicability of the Centre’s new agriculture sector laws in the State.

Context

The Rajasthan Assembly passed three Bills to stop the applicability of the Centre’s new agriculture sector laws in the State. The move comes after the Punjab Assembly adopted a resolution against the farm laws and unanimously passed four bills to counter the Centre's contentious legislations.

This development raises a very serious question “Can States challenge the validity of central laws?”

About

The debate on federalism

  • Agriculture being a state subject under the Constitution, any central legislation seeking to remove barriers to trade and creating a unified national market for farm produce could trigger a fresh debate on federalism.
  • The main subjects of the three acts are ‘agriculture’ and ‘market’ that are essentially state subjects as per the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.
    • The Seventh Schedule (Article 246) places “agriculture” in entry 14 and “market and fairs” in entry 28 of the State List.

What are the bills?

  • The three bills passed by the House are
    • The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2020
      • It seeks to restore agricultural safeguards in the state through the regulatory framework of the Rajasthan Agricultural Produce Markets Act, 1961, to secure the livelihood of farmers and those engaged in agriculture activities.
      • The bill has a provision for punishment for those who force a farmer to sell his produce below the minimum support price, but this is limited only to contract farming.
    • The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) (Rajasthan Amendment) Bill, 2020
      • The Bill mentions that harassment of farmers will be punishable by imprisonment or fine.
      • But it does not make it clear whether purchase below MSP will be deemed as harassment.
    • o    The Essential Commodities (Special Provisions and Rajasthan Amendment) Bill 2020
      • It empowers the government to control production, supply and distribution of essential commodities. 
  • The bills, however, need the assent of the governor before they become laws. The governor could withhold assent and refer them to the president.

Can the states refuse to implement the central laws?

  • A dispute between the Centre and the states on any issue is clearly envisaged by the
  • Therefore, the states can well ask the Supreme Court to decide whether they can refuse to implement the law during the pendency of the case in the Supreme Court.
  • State assemblies can pass resolutions on any subject, to express the collective opinion of their members. 
  • But they will be bound by what the Supreme Court eventually decides on the matter.
  • The resolutions are perfectly valid, but they will have no effect if the Supreme Court favours the Centre, after hearing the petitions filed by the states on the subject.
  • Needless to say, the Supreme Court’s decision will be binding on the states as well as the Centre.

Is it legal?

  • Usually, when a state wants to amend a Central law made under one of the items in the concurrent list, it needs the clearance of the Centre.
  • When a state law contradicts a Central law on the same subject, the law passed by Parliament prevails.
  • This is an arrangement envisaged as most Parliament laws apply to the whole of India and states amending the Central laws indiscriminately could lead to inconsistencies in different regions on the application of the same law.

Judicial challenge

  • The other option available with the states is to take the Centre to the Supreme Court over the validity of these laws.
  • Article 131 confers exclusive jurisdiction on the Supreme Court in disputes involving States, or the Centre on the one hand and one or more States on the other.
  • This means no other court can entertain such a dispute.
  • It is well-known that both High Courts and the Supreme Court have the power to adjudicate cases against the State and Central governments.

In particular, the validity of any executive or legislative action is normally challenged by way of writ petitions — under Article 226 of the Constitution in respect of High Courts, and, in respect to fundamental rights violations, under Article 32 in the Supreme Court.

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