Controversial sugarcane law gets Parliament nod

Controversial sugarcane law gets Parliament nod

New Delhi: Parliament on Wednesday passed a bill that introduces new sugarcane price regime, after government allayed concerns of Opposition that the states will not be required to pay the difference between the Central and the State Advised Price to farmers.

The Rajya Sabha passed the Essential Commodities (Amendment and Validation) Bill which had already been approved by the Lok Sabha last week. Instead of Statutory Minimum Price (SMP) the Central benchmark would be the Fair and Remunerative Price (FRP).

The Bill replaces the 21 October Ordinance which had led to protests among sugarcane farmers and political parties against obligation sought to be put on the state governments if they chose to pay higher price than FRP.

“There were strong reactions in northern India and Tamil Nadu. We said uniform price throughout the country would not be acceptable. The government accepted the demand and the state governments are free to decide SAP without paying the differential with FRP," food and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar said, winding up the debate on the bill.

The Opposition including BJP, SP, BSP and RLD had stalled Parliament proceedings on the first two days of the winter session on 19 -20 November, protesting the Sugarcane Control Order. The RLD and Bharatiya Kisan Union also held a big rally in the capital against the measure.

Even the DMK, a key ally of the UPA, had opposed the order.

While the new FRP has received Parliamentary approval, Pawar was compelled to assure the Opposition as also DMK that he would revisit another provision which does away with farmers sharing profits with the mills.

“I accept the suggestion," Pawar said after BJP leader M Venkaiah Naidu pressed for such an assurance. Naidu’s views were also endorsed by DMK member T Siva.

Pawar tried to justify removal of the provision for farmers’ profit-sharing with the mills stating it had remained a non-starter. But Naidu as also Siva said even if the mills had not shared the profits, the provision gave a legal remedy to the farmers which was being taken away.

The new law would also enable the government to pre-empt the sugar industry’s claim of about Rs14,000 crore on it on account of levy price fixation.

Pawar ruled out decontrol of the sugar sector stating “situation is not it is not favourable for total decontrol" he said. Pawar said the government has already liberalised the industry as the level of compulsory levy purchase has come down from 70-80%.

He said the government has so far not accepted recommendations of the Swaminathan panel on farm prices. Thus, it could not have been done for sugarcane alone.

A Vijayaraghavan (CPI-M) pressed for an amendment, which however, was negatived.