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Winter Session begins today: Government to push for farm laws repeal today, Opposition demands MSP statute

All the parties asked the government to give a legal guarantee on the MSP for farmers. Trinamool Congress (TMC) and YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) asked the government not to disinvest the profit-making public sector companies.

In the all-party meeting convened by the government on the eve of the winter session, several parties have renewed their demands for the early passage of the women's reservation bill. (ANI photo)

WITH THE UNION government listing the introduction of a Bill to repeal the farm laws in the Lok Sabha for consideration and passage on Monday – the first day of the Winter session of Parliament – many Opposition parties as well as some of those friendly to the Bharatiya Janata Party, have demanded a statutory backing to the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of crops for farmers at an all-party meeting Sunday.

Joining the Congress in seeking legal guarantees on the MSP were Trinamool Congress, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, YSR Congress Party, Biju Janata Dal, Telangana Rashtra Samithi, Aam Admi Party, Bahujan Samaj Party, and the Left parties. A chorus in the Lok Sabha on legal backing for MSP and pushing for a discussion by these political parties may make things difficult for the Union government.

The Bill, according to sources, was circulated to Rajya Sabha members on Friday for consideration as passed by Lok Sabha. The government, they said, was likely to move it in the Rajya Sabha too on Monday itself after it was passed by Lok Sabha. Explaining the withdrawal of the farm laws in the repeal Bill, the government said the need of the hour was “to take everyone together on the path of inclusive growth and development”.

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Both the BJP and the Congress have issued a whip asking their members to be present in the House.

Mallikarjun Kharge of Congress, who is the leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, pointed out that the farmers’ issues needed detailed discussion as they were very important. Demanding that the repeal of the farm laws be taken up for discussion first, Trinamool Congress warned that not doing so may spark a confrontation between the treasury benches and the Opposition.

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not attend the all-party meeting on Sunday, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh urged party leaders to ensure the smooth functioning of the House so that members can have healthy debates in both the Houses. Besides Rajnath Singh, Leader of the Rajya Sabha Piyush Goyal, Parliamentary Affairs Ministers Pralhad Joshi, V Muraleedharn and Arjun Ram Meghwal were present from the government’s side.

Also Read |All-party meet: TMC raises 10 issues, AAP walks out

Opposition leaders including Kharge and Binoy Vishwam of CPI questioned the Prime Minister’s absence in the meeting.

Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Manoj Jha, a Rajya Sabha MP, said his party had consistently maintained that MSP should be guaranteed for farm produce. “The government must realise the collective power of the farmers, now that they have experienced it first-hand,” Jha told The Indian Express. He was, however, not present in the meeting Sunday.

Revolutionary Socialist Party’s N K Premachandran who attended the meeting said MSP, as of now, was an executive decision. “It has to be given a statutory backing so that farmers can approach the court for getting the MSP as envisaged in the Act,” he said.

Also Read |ExplainSpeaking: Will a legal guarantee on MSP solve India’s farm distress?

During the farmers’ agitation against the farm laws since mid-2020, one of their key demands had been a legal guarantee for MSP. While The Union government has all along maintained it would continue procurement at MSP but did not agree on a legal guarantee for MSP even during the negotiations. Bills introduced by Congress in states ruled by it such as Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Punjab dealt with the MSP issue differently; none offered a guarantee on MSP.

Explained |In perspective, farm distress and the demand for guaranteed MSP

Aam Aadmi Party leader in the Rajya Sabha Sanjay Singh, who was present in the meeting said, “I pointed out that in 2010, a government committee, which had Narendra Modi as one of the members in his capacity as CM of Gujarat, had recommended a law on MSP. That appears to have irked the minister who made constant interruptions. I made my point and walked out.”

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh too pointed to this Report of the Working Group on Consumer Affairs chaired by Narendra Modi in 2011 as Chief Minister of Gujarat.

Explained

MSP is possible, but entails a cost

At present, farmers cannot by right ask to be paid the MSP set by the government on crops. Their agitation has been as much about withdrawal of the farm laws as about a legal guarantee for MSP. The MSP entitlement can be met, but it entails a fiscal cost.

Recommending reduction in farmers’ marketing risk to help improve income and agricultural production, the committee’s action plan was to make “advance declaration of MSP” and “enforce MSP” since intermediaries played a vital role in the functioning of the market and at times had advance contracts with farmers. “In respect of all commodities, we should protect farmer’s interests by mandating through statutory provisions that no farmer-trader transactions should be below MSP, wherever prescribed,” the committee’s action plan said.

Besides MSP guarantee, several parties led by Trinamool Congress renewed their demands for the early passage of the women’s reservation Bill. A Trinamool leader claimed that its demand on women’s reservation Bill was backed by at least 10 opposition parties. BJD, YSRCP, the Left parties and Bahujan Samaj Party too raised the issue of the long-pending women’s Bill. While leaders of these parties asked the government to expedite the process, Samajwadi Party and RJD maintained that reservation for women should be at the level of political parties.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said 31 parties participated in the all-party meeting. “Forty-two leaders from various parties participated in a constructive discussion. The government is ready for any discussions permitted by the Chairman and the Speaker, without disruptions,” Joshi told reporters after the meeting.?

BJP, which had a meeting of its parliamentary executive and its allies in the NDA separately, is expected to cash in on the lack of unity among the opposition benches to push its legislative agenda, sources said.

According to sources, Kharge told BJP leaders that the treasury benches would get their backing for the legislative business if the government cooperated with the opposition parties and let them raise the issues they wanted. The Trinamool will also press for discussions on a host of issues including price rise, use of Pegasus spyware and expansion of the territorial jurisdiction of the BSF in Bengal – Sudip Bandopadhyay and Derek O’Brien, the parliamentary party leaders of the Trinamool in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively, raised the issues at the all-party meeting.

Responding to a question whether the government gave any indication on the possibility of a debate on the issue, Derek O’Brien said, “This is how they create confrontation. Of course, there should be a debate before the bills are repealed and opposition MPs should be allotted time to speak. But then you never know what mockery of Parliament this government will make.”

Asked about the implications of Trinamool’s frosty ties with the Congress on Opposition unity, he said “common issues” will bring the parties together on the floor of the House. “Yes, there will be Opposition unity in Parliament. I also must point out that there is a distinction between the RJD, DMK and the CPI (M)— they are all electoral allies of the Congress. The NCP-Shiv Sena runs a government with the Congress. The Congress is not our electoral ally, nor are we running a government with them. That’s the difference,” O’Brien said.?

CPI-M’s John Brittas, a Rajya Sabha member, wanted the “centrality” of Parliament to be regained. He is learnt to have emphasised on the need for bills to go through standing committee scrutiny. He reiterated the CPI-M’s demand for compensation to farmers who died during the protests.

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