New Delhi: The Rajya Sabha Sunday passed the two contentious farm bills amid high drama, with opposition MPs throwing social distancing norms to the wind and coming to the well of the House to protest what they called the “murder of Parliamentary democracy”.
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services bill, 2020, and the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) bill, 2020, were passed through voice vote, amid a din in the Upper House with opposition MPs objecting to the process.
Rajya Sabha TV also muted the audio telecast of the proceedings when the opposition MPs were protesting.
At least 13 opposition parties, including the Congress, Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party, TRS, Samajwadi Party, Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party, Aam Aadmi Party, RJD, Janata Dal (Secular), TDP, CPI(M) and CPI, and even Biju Janata Dal, which is friendly to the BJP, opposed or had misgivings about the bills.
They urged the government to refer the bills to a select committee for review because of confusion over some of the provisions. The two bills propose to liberalise the agriculture market and give legal framework to contract farming.
But the resolution to refer the bills to the select committee could not be moved amid the pandemonium. Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien claimed that the opposition MPs were denied voting rights in the Rajya Sabha.
Ruckus in Rajya Sabha
The ruckus started after the opposition parties, led by Congress’ Ghulam Nabi Azad, wanted the bills to be taken up for passage Monday. But the government didn’t relent, prompting opposition MPs to come to the well of the House and raise slogans.
The House had to be adjourned for 10 minutes and when it reconvened, Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman Harivansh took up clause-by-clause passage of the bill amid the uproar.
The repeated requests by Harivansh asking members to not congregate at the well fell on deaf ears. Derek O’Brien rushed with the rule book to the deputy chairman before House marshals removed him. Another opposition MP broke the microphone on the deputy chairman’s table.
DMK MP Tiruchi Siva was seen tearing up some papers and throwing them in the well of the House. With slogan-shouting continuing, the sound system inside the House was muted.
“This government did not allow us to move our resolution to refer the bill to the select committee. The rule is even if one member asks for voting it will be allowed. The government knew that it was not in a position to pass the bill so they did it forcibly,” O’ Brien said in a video message from inside the Parliament. “…What we saw today was brutal murder of our parliament system. Even the Rajya Sabha TV feed was cut so the country could not see.”
They cheated. They broke every rule in Parliament. It was a historic day. In the worst sense of the word. They cut RSTV feed so the country couldn't see. They censored RSTV. Don’t spread propaganda. We have evidence. But first watch this pic.twitter.com/y4Nh9Vu9DA
— Derek O'Brien | ডেরেক ও'ব্রায়েন (@derekobrienmp) September 20, 2020
“All parties including the BJP had agreed to a 4 hour discussion on the 2 #FarmBills in the Rajya Sabha. This was unilaterally cut short by the Govt’s floor managers by almost 45 minutes. This was the starting point for the chaos in the Parliament,” Congress deputy whip in Rajya Sabha Jairam Ramesh tweeted.
All parties including the BJP had agreed to a 4 hour discussion on the 2 #FarmBills in the Rajya Sabha. This was unilaterally cut short by the Govt's floor managers by almost 45 minutes. This was the starting point for the chaos in the Parliament this afternoon. https://t.co/gsZC7k529F
— Jairam Ramesh (@Jairam_Ramesh) September 20, 2020
After the bill was passed, opposition parties sat on a dharna inside the House. Later, the parties including the Congress, RJD, NCP, TRS, SP, Trinamool Congress, IUML, CPI and CPI(M) moved a no-confidence motion against Harivansh.
At the time of writing this report, Rajya Sabha Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu, Harivansh and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prahlad Patel were holding a meeting to discuss the ruckus in the house and if action needs to be taken against those who caused it, according to sources in the Rajya Sabha.
Historic, say BJP leaders
BJP leaders called the passage of the two farm bills as “historic”.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that it is a “watershed moment” in the history of agriculture. “For decades, the Indian farmer was bound by various constraints and bullied by middlemen,” he tweeted. “The bills passed by Parliament liberate the farmers from such adversities. These bills will add impetus to the efforts to double income of farmers and ensure greater prosperity for them.”
For decades, the Indian farmer was bound by various constraints and bullied by middlemen. The bills passed by Parliament liberate the farmers from such adversities. These bills will add impetus to the efforts to double income of farmers and ensure greater prosperity for them.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) September 20, 2020
Of the two bills, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services provides a legal framework for contract farming and allows farmers and agri-businesses to engage directly by bypassing the agricultural market produce committees (APMC).
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020, allows inter- and intra-state sale of agricultural produce outside government regulated markets or APMC mandis.
The Lok Sabha had passed them last Thursday, which led to Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the BJP’s oldest ally, resigning in protest.
The bill has also created heartburn among the farming community in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh who are out on the roads protesting.
Who said what about the bill
Moving the bill for passage, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said it will increase competition and help farmers get the right price for their produce. Tomar assured the House that the bill is not related to the Minimum Support Price (MSP) of farm produce in any way. “MSP was there, is there and will be there,” he said.
Many opposition leaders including BJD’s Amar Patnaik said there is fear that the existing system of giving MSP to farmers for their produce will go now. Opposition leaders also expressed concern that the new law will allow big corporates to enter the farm sector and germ farmer’s interests.
Opposing the bill, Congress’ Pratap Singh Bajwa said, “The bill is against the spirit of cooperative federalism. What is the logic in bringing the bill now when corona cases are rising in the country and China is breathing down our neck…..it will only allow big corporates like Adani to enter the farm sector.”
Samajwadi Party’s Ram Gopal Yadav said the ruling party is under some compulsion because of which it is bringing in the bill without discussing and debating. “They are just pushing through the bill,” he said.
K. Keshava Rao of TRS called the bill a direct, brutal assault on the state’s rights.
Urging the government to refer the bill to a select committee, BJD’s Amar Patnaik said, “The bill is good in intent but ignores the implementation aspect. It’s an indirect way of getting intermediaries into the farm sector.”
Manoj Jha of RJD said if the bill is passed, the ongoing farmers’ protest in Punjab, Haryana and UP will spread across the country. “If you pass the bill, you will write the obituary of Indian farm community,” he said.