New Delhi: Opposed not only by over half-a-dozen opposition parties led by the Congress but also NDA ally Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), the Lok Sabha Tuesday passed the bill by voice vote to replace the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020, promulgated in June.
The reservation expressed by SAD’s Sukhbir Singh Badal against the bill caught the NDA unawares but comes amid farmers’ protest in Punjab and Haryana against the three farm ordinances that will be replaced by bills in the Parliament’s monsoon session.
Badal said there are many apprehensions about the bill and till these are cleared, it should not be passed.
On being asked why he was not happy with the changes proposed, he said, “The farmer told me it’s like Reliance Jio. When they introduced the phone, the low cost offered by the company killed competition and when the monopoly of Reliance was established, it increased the prices. Similarly, multinational companies will come to invest in the agriculture sector and offer facilities at low cost initially, only to hike it later.”
Besides the Congress, the other opposition parties who opposed the bill included the Trinamool Congress, NCP, BSP and the CPI(M). The opposition parties called the bill “anti-farmer” and said it is being enacted to benefit corporates and multinational companies.
However, the Shiv Sena, which is in alliance with the Congress and the NCP in Maharashtra, and the TDP, which walked out of the NDA alliance in 2018, supported the bill that amends the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. The BJD, TRS and YSR Congress Party, too, supported the bill.
What is Essential Commodities Amendment Bill
The bill gives the central government the power to designate certain commodities like food items, fertilisers and petroleum products as essential commodities and regulate their production, supply, distribution, and trade and commerce under extraordinary circumstances such as a war or floods.
The legislation mandates imposition of stock limit on agricultural produce if there is a 100 per cent increase in retail price of horticultural produce and 50 per cent increase in retail price of non-perishable agricultural food items.
‘It will legalise hoarding’
Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the bill will legalise hoarding. Reminding the members of the Lok Sabha of the Bengal famine that killed 40 lakh people, Chowdhury said, “I am apprehensive that the bill will legalise hoarding and it will only help big corporates and multinational companies.”
Trinamool Congress’ Saugata Roy, who moved a statutory resolution against the ordinance, said the proposed amendments are an example of coercive federalism. Roy said that earlier states had the power to regulate stocks that were kept by people to reign hoarding, but now the power has been taken away by the Centre.
Opposing the bill, NCP’s Supriya Sule asked Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution, Rao Saheb Patil Danve, about how the government arrived at the 100 per cent rise in retail price figure for imposing stock limit. “This was never discussed with the Maharashtra government,” Sule said.
Several opposition members also said the bill was ambiguous and demanded that it be referred to the select committee for review.
“This law will have the same fate as demonetisation. The government said then that it will curb black marketing. But instead poor people lost their lives standing in queue,” BSP’s Kunwar Danish Ali said.
Danve tried to allay members’ apprehension about the bill saying that it will bring in more investment to the farm sector and help in improving farmers’ income.
“It will make the farmers in the country atma nirbhar and help in doubling their income,” he said.
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