NEW DELHI :
The Union cabinet headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday gave its approval to amend the Essential Commodities Act (ECA), a more than six decade old law that empowers government to impose curbs on stocking of farm produce.

In the second meeting of the Union cabinet held after the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) completed its first year in office in its second term, the cabinet also decided to form an empowered group of secretaries chaired by cabinet secretary to encourage both foreign and domestic investments into India.

This comes against the backdrop of India looking to become an integral part of the global supply chains, as firms look to move production lines out of China due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

The government has been reaching out to financially weaker sections including farmers, amid growing criticism that the lockdown, while necessary, was unplanned.

Briefing reporters at the end of the cabinet meeting, agriculture and farmers welfare Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the landmark decisions will benefit farmers and transform the agriculture sector.

The ECA will now be amended to make it in tune with the times and to attract investments into the farm sector. According to the government, even as India has become surplus in most agri-commodities, farmers have been unable to get better prices due to lack of investment in cold storage, processing and export.

The government is hopeful that an above normal monsoon and the increase in higher prices will potentially boost farm incomes.

Amending the Essential Commodities Act of 1955 is among the measures Finance Minister Sitharaman announced last month as part of the 20 trillion stimulus package. This will lead to removal of cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes from list of essential commodities.

The decisions also reflects the Union government’s strategy of using the crisis to initiate reforms, a case in point being the reforming of the agricultural produce market committees (APMCs).

The cabinet also approved the The Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020 which will help in the creation of one agriculture market across the country wherein farmers and traders will enjoy freedom of choice of sale and purchase of agri-produce. It will also allow for hassle-free inter-state and intra-state trade in agriculture produce.

On Monday, the cabinet had approved the increase in the Minimum Support Prices (MSPs) for 14 crops that are 50%-83% higher than the cost of cultivation in an effort to put more money in the hands of farmers. Also, an interest subvention scheme for farmers has been extended by another three months to 31 August.

The Cabinet also approved The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020 that will help attract private investments to the farm sector. The ordinance empowers farmers to engage with processors, aggregators, wholesalers, large retailers and exporters.

To strike a balance between combating the virus and limiting economic damage from one of the world’s longest community shutdowns, India looking at replenishing demand to help revive economy. It has set in motion efforts to replace the demand that was lost after the economy went into a hard lockdown—which is now being gradually withdrawn.

This comes in the backdrop of Prime Minister Narendra Modi pitching for a New Deal for Aatmanirbhar Bharat, as India aspires to make a play for larger role in global supply chains. Modi on Monday had assured the India Inc to make India an investor-friendly nation.

“Industries are thinking to diversify their investments in different localities. To ensure more investments in India, an empowered group of secretaries has been formed. Simultaneously, in every ministry, there will be project development cells that will handhold projects concerning their ministries and facilitate land acquisition,” union minister of information and broadcasting Prakash Javadekar told reporters in a press conference.

Among other decisions undertake by the cabinet was the remaining of Kolkata Port Trust as Syama Prasad Mookerjee Trust. The decision has an emotive significance for BJP and its predecessor Bharatiya Jana Sangh, founded by Syama Prasad Mukherjee.

The cabinet also approved the establishment of Pharmacopoeia Commission for Indian Medicine & Homoeopathy (PCIM&H) as subordinate office under Ministry of AYUSH.

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