Dismissing Opposition objections and pleas, the government pushed through two key farm Bills in Rajya Sabha on Sunday amid unprecedented scenes of chaos, confusion, and ruckus. Agitated Opposition members, protesting the extension of the House sitting beyond the scheduled end at1 pm, tore copies of the Bills, broke microphones on the Chairman’s table, flung a copy of the Rule Book at the presiding officer, and then sat on a dharna in the House even after it was adjourned for the day.
Never unsure of its numbers in the Upper House, and given that many Opposition members have cited health reasons to stay away, the government, using its numerical strength, rejected the Opposition demand to refer the Bills — The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, and The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 — to a select committee for parliamentary scrutiny.
Already cleared by Lok Sabha, the Bills, passed by voice vote, will now go to the President for assent before becoming law. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a series of tweets after the passage of the Bills in Rajya Sabha, described it as “a watershed moment in the history of Indian agriculture” while BJP members called it “historic… a big reform”.
The Opposition hit back, saying it was “historic for all the wrong reasons” given the manner in which the “anti-farmer” Bills were passed.
Incidentally, fence sitters BJD and TRS too spoke against the Bills. While TRS opposed the Bill, the BJD joined the Opposition in demanding that they be referred to a select committee. The BJD and TRS have a record of taking sides with the government on crucial Bills. The SAD, which broke ranks with the NDA over the Bills, too spoke against the legislation. Opposition members had moved motions disapproving the Bills, demanding that these be referred to a select committee.
The debate, though heated, proceeded smoothly till 1 pm with the Opposition tearing into the government and the treasury benches launching counter-attacks in defence of the Bills. At 1 pm, Deputy Chairman Harivansh, who was in the Chair, sought permission of the House to extend the time of the sitting till disposal of the Bills. This was when Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar was replying to the discussion. As is customary, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi proposed extension of time, but Opposition members did not agree and asked the Chair to adjourn the House and continue the discussion Monday.
But the Deputy Chairman did not end the proceedings and asked Tomar to continue his speech. Members of the Congress, Trinamool Congress, DMK, AAP and the Left protested, saying there was no unanimity on extending the sitting. Sanjay Singh of AAP, Jairam Ramesh of Congress and Dola Sen of TMC came to the Well of the House to protest.
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad said “if the House is to be extended… it is not done on the basis of numbers, but on the basis of consensus. So the consensus… most of the political parties are saying the time should not be extended today, and tomorrow the minister can reply… more than rules, the tradition has been that whosoever is in the Chair and whosoever is in government, it is always on the basis of consensus that time is extended, and not on the basis of the strength of the ruling party. My request is not to extend the time and let the minister reply tomorrow.”
Opposition members then began raising slogans, asking the government to take back the “anti-farmer”, “black” Bills. As Tomar continued his speech, more Opposition members came to the Well. This forced Tomar to cut short his reply. When the Deputy Chairman began the process for passage of the Bill, even more members trooped into the Well.
TMC floor leader Derek O’Brien came rushing to the Chairman’s podium, waving the rule book. One member then threw a copy of the rule book at the Chair, and another broke the microphones. Audio telecast of the live proceedings was soon cut.
At 1.26 pm, the Deputy Chairman adjourned the House for 15 minutes. And when it resumed, Parliament security personnel created a human wall between the Opposition members and the Chair. Amid slogan shouting, clapping and jeering by the Opposition, the Deputy Chairman began clause-by-clause consideration of the Bills. The statutory motions, moved by several members, were negatived by voice vote. Opposition members sought division on the clauses, but this was turned down by the Deputy Chairman who pointed out that members were not on their designated seats.
Some of the members, AAP’s Sanjay Singh and Congress’s Rajeev Satav, climbed on the Secretary General’s table. DMK’s Tiruchi Siva — along with O’Brien, K C Venugopal of Congress and K K Ragesh of CPM, he had moved resolutions for sending the Bills to the select committee — tore papers and flung them in the air. Amid the melee, the two Bills were passed by voice vote.
Opposition members led by Azad then sat on a dharna inside the House for another 90 minutes.
The Lok Sabha, which was to begin its sitting from both chambers at 3 pm, could not start proceedings since Opposition members refused to move out of the Rajya Sabha chamber.
Earlier, in his reply amid the din, Tomar said the minimum price or MSP-based procurement of agriculture crops from farmers will continue and is not related to the farm Bills that seek to give cultivators the freedom to market their produce.
“Purchase on MSP was done in the past, continues now and it will be continued in the future. There is no room for doubt on this,” Tomar said. The mandis, he said, will not stop functioning and trading will continue as before.
Initiating the debate, Partap Singh Bajwa of Congress opposed the Bills, saying they are “completely ill-conceived” and “ill-timed”.
“These Bills are against the farmers of India, particularly Punjab, Haryana and western UP. Being the son of a farmer, I want to say that we will not sign the farmer’s death warrants in any condition,” he said.
Countering Bajwa, BJP’s Bhupender Yadav attacked the Opposition for indulging in politics on the issue. “The Opposition should stop doing politics and stop misleading farmers on this issue as the government has brought a big reform to improve the rural economy,” he said.
“We are in the government until 2024, the MSP is going to be announced at least 8 times for the rabi and kharif crops. Each time your falsehood will be exposed,” he said.
While O’Brien asked the government to send the Bills to a select committee, SP’s Ram Gopal said there is a compulsion due to which the ruling party does not want to debate and discuss the Bills. “They are rushing through the Bills,” he said. “Is it not appropriate in a parliamentary democracy to discuss the Bills with Opposition leaders and farmer organisations? It is related to the livelihood of 60 per cent population of the country,” he said. RJD’s Manoj Kumar Jha said the government is writing the “obituary” of farmers with the passage of these Bills.
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