It was a day of protests for opposition parties on the first day of special session of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha with AAP MLAs sitting on a dharna in the well of the House to demand a copy of state government’s Bill against agriculture laws as well as other Bills to be introduced in the House, and SAD MLAs staging a dharna outside the Punjab Bhawan after they were denied entry to meet the press.
AAP MLAs’ dharna continued late into the night with MLAs refusing to vacate the Vidhan Sabha complex. The MLAs, however, moved from the well of the House to the Members’ Lounge after the Vidhan Sabha officials pointed out that the House has to be sanitised for anti-Covid measures else the session cannot be held on Tuesday. Leader of Opposition Harpal Singh Cheema told The Indian Express that they (AAP MLAs) would not vacate the Vidhan Sabha complex till they get a copy of the Bill even if this means spending the night in the complex.
In another related development, the media covering the session from Punjab Bhawan protested to Speaker, Rana KP Singh, about the “one-sided telecast” of House proceedings in Punjab Bhavan and that they are unable to witness opposition protests in House as cameras focussed on Speaker and treasury benches only. The Speaker assured that he would look into this issue.
Earlier in the day, AAP MLAs, led by Leader of Opposition, sat in the well of the House immediately after the House was adjourned. All MLAs were demanding that the copy of the Bills must be handed over to them as the government had promised in the past.
Wearing black robes with slogans written on them, the MLAs did Facebook Live sessions while sitting in the House even as the Vidhan Sabha staff assured them that they would be given copies of the Bills by 5 pm, which did not happen. The AAP protest was reminiscent of the overnight Congress protest in the House in 2016 against the then SAD-BJP government.
In his Facebook Live from the well of the House, AAP MLA from Sunam, Aman Arora, said that Congress as well as SAD and BJP had a similar attitude towards the agriculture laws.
“Before the special session, the Congress government should have called a seminar where representatives of all political parties should have been invited along with representatives of farmers, legal and constitutional experts as well as agriculture experts to deliberate on the way forward. The farmers are the worst affected and it is logical that their voice should have been heard first,” said Arora.
The AAP MLAs said that it was sad that the Capt Amarinder Singh’s government had not shared any draft of any legislation that they wanted to bring against the Centre’s laws with the opposition parties or the farmers. “It seems that they are not bringing any legislation to save the farmers. It appears they are bringing some law to save the Congress party in 2022 elections as it is in doldrums right now,” Arora added.
AAP MLA Kultar Singh Sandhwan said that it was quite strange that the Capt Amarinder government had called a session of the House on agriculture laws but was not informing MLAs on what needed to be done to counter them.
“What is the Bill being brought? The media has been deliberately kept out of the House on pretext of Covid norms while hundreds of policemen are inside the premises. Is there no danger of coronavirus from them,” he said.
Leader of Opposition, Harpal Singh Cheema, said that he had requested Speaker Rana KP Singh and Finance Minister Manpreet Badal in the Business Advisory Committee meeting to make the anti-agriculture laws Bill available to the opposition.
“I do not know why the Congress is hiding it. In 2004 too, a Congress legislation was set aside by the Supreme Court. This is why we want to see what the state government is bringing,” he said.
AAP MLAs also staged a protest in the Assembly complex where they tore and burnt copies of Centre’s agri Acts.
SAD dharna outside Punjab Bhawan
Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), meanwhile, registered a formal protest for “non-supply of proposed legislation set to be introduced in the Vidhan Sabha on Tuesday to members” with Vidhan Sabha Speaker Rana K P Singh, besides asking him to take action against “those responsible for not allowing SAD members to interact with the media at Punjab Bhawan”.
SAD MLAs, led by Bikram Singh Majithia, sat on a four-hour dharna outside Punjab Bhawan after party MLAs were not allowed to enter the Punjab Bhawan to meet the press which was covering the session from there.
“Punjab Bhawan has been turned into Congress Bhawan. These premises have been turned into an extension of the Punjab Vidhan Sabha by the Speaker. Under what law are MLAs being denied entry here. First the media has been muzzled by keeping them away from Vidhan Sabha and now opposition is not being allowed to meet them to our across their point of view. This is nothing but dictatorship,” said Majithia.
The SAD MLAs sat down on the road in front of the Vidhan Sabha and insisted that they be allowed access while the Punjab Police and Chandigarh Police personnel deployed there prevented them from entering the bhawan.
SAD MLAs, Pawan Tinu, NK Sharma and Manpreet Singh Ayali managed to enter the premises by scaling the gate amidst high drama.
Earlier, the SAD MLAs led by Bikram Majithia had come to the Punjab Vidhan Sabha on tractors. Congress MLAs Gurkirat Singh Kotli and Sukhpal Bhullar also did the same. SAD MLAs also tore copies of the Centre’s farm laws in protest.
About the proposed anti-farm law Bill not being shared with the opposition, SAD alleged that “the proposed Bills were not being made public with three crore Punjabis because they were being finalised as per directions of the Modi government”.
“The Congress government is gearing up to betray Punjabis as it did in the case of the river waters termination Act in 2004 which allowed continuous flow of river waters to Haryana and Rajasthan,” SAD said in a written statement.
The SAD legislature party members, who met the Speaker in the evening under the leadership of Sharanjit Singh Dhillon, also apprised him that “three ministers today held meetings with farmer organisations in contravention of his orders and later escaped from the (Punjab) Bhawan by crossing over the barbed wire fencing rather than face protesting SAD legislators at the main gate.”
“The Speaker admitted in front of newsmen that he had denied permission for the meeting between ministers and farmer representatives at the Punjab Bhawan last night because the Punjab Bhawan had been declared a precinct of the Vidhan Sabha. He admitted on record that the ministers should not have held any meeting with farmer organisations at the Punjab Bhawan after he had passed orders in this direction. He also told the SAD legislators that they should not have been stopped from interacting with the media and assured them he would take appropriate action in the matter,” the statement by the SAD further said.
(With inputs from ENS Chandigarh)
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