Last week, the Narendra Modi government pushed through three pro-corporate bills — Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill — in Parliament. All three Bills were inter-connected. The first two give corporates opportunity to trade in agricultural commodities while entering into agreements with farmers without any government intervention. The third provides corporates the opportunity to stock as much as they wish agricultural commodities that come to them through procurement and contracts. The government has created opportunities for corporates to procure commodities at cheap prices, hoard the stock and create artificial shortages, and possibly sell them later at exorbitant prices. The three laws will facilitate looting of farmers and consumers; the Centre has legitimised hoarding and black market with them.
This is why the entire Opposition stood together to support the stand taken by the Left and other opposition parties against the Bills in Parliament. The Left parties also submitted a statutory resolution motion to refer the Bills to the select committee and proposed 12 amendments to the Bills. The clause for ensuring minimum support price (MSP) for agriculture commodities was the most important among these amendments. The Chair announced a voice vote on the statutory resolution and declared it is negated. He refused to consider repeated demands by members for a division vote on the statutory resolution.
The Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha has told the media that “the amendment moved by CPI(M) MP K K Ragesh was negated by voice vote at 1.07 pm on September 20 as he was in the well of the house and not on his seat in the gallery at that point of time”. But I was nowhere in the well as per RS TV footage captured at 1.07 pm! The precedent is that the division vote is demanded by the member soon after the voice vote. At around 1.08 pm, after the chair’s announcement that the statutory resolution and motion for amendments were negated in the voice vote, I raised my demand for a division vote. I had followed the rules of the House.
Even the motions to refer the Bill to the select committee were rejected in the most undemocratic manner. In the RS TV footage, my voice can be heard thrice soon after the voice vote, demanding a division vote on the motion to refer the Bill to the select committee, which was raised from my seat. What was the justification of the chair’s refusal to admit my demand? And when my name is referred to in the context of an amendment on Clause 2, the video visual reveals that I demanded division at 1.11 pm, which was neglected.
The deputy chairman’s argument that “for a demand for division, it is equally important that there should be order in the House” is just an excuse to justify his undemocratic actions. Even if order in the House is disrupted, it is the duty of the Chair to ensure it (Rule 259). There are several accepted ways to do it, including adjourning the House and convening it after some time.
Besides, the Chair’s argument that the members should demand for a division from their seats makes no sense considering the seating arrangements. How is it possible when the members have taken part in this session by sitting even in the Lok Sabha chamber, in accordance with the social distancing norms? Yet again, the RS TV footage shows there were many members raising demand for division vote by sitting in their seats. Once a motion is presented in the House, any member who is present could demand a division vote. Why did the Chair insist that division vote is admissible only when the mover of the motion is in his seat? According to the rules, the vote should be conducted even if a single member of the house demands to do so.
An Expert Explains: What are the broad arguments for and against the farm laws?
The anti-farmer laws are out there and the people are judging the intent of the government that hurriedly rolled them out. The Narendra Modi government’s anti-farmer and pro-corporate stand is clearer now than ever.
This article first appeared in the print edition on October 2, 2020 under the title ‘Hijacking the House’. The writer is a Rajya Sabha MP and a leader of All India Kisan Sabha, the peasant wing of the CPI(M).