The Rajya Sabha passed two of the three bills bringing in big-ticket reforms in Indian agriculture to set farmers free of brokers and designated markets amid unprecedented uproar and protests by the opposition. The opposition claimed the government did not have the numbers and there was a rampant violation of rules that helped the ruling BJP.
In the morning, while introducing the bill, the government said the bills were “historic”. The BJP insists that the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce Bill, and the Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, will improve the lives of farmers in the country.
Congratulating farmers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “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 the income of farmers and ensure greater prosperity for them”.
Another tweet from him read: “I said it earlier and I say it once again: System of MSP will remain. Government procurement will continue. We are here to serve our farmers. We will do everything possible to support them and ensure a better life for their coming generations”.
In June, three agriculture-related ordinances had been issued — the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance 2020.
To convert them into laws in the current session, the Lok Sabha has already passed the three corresponding bills.
The proposed laws are expected to provide barrier-free trade for farmers’ produce outside notified farm mandis, and empower farmers to enter into agreements with private players for sale of agri-produce even before production.
“This does not end here,” said TMC’s Derek O’Brien, branding the passage of the bills as a “murder of democracy”. The opposition MPs sat in protest inside the house for a while, and later, 47 of them moved a no-confidence motion against Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson Harivansh Singh.
“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,” Derek O’Brien later tweeted.
The opposition, which lacked the numbers to block the bills, had demanded that the bills be sent to a select committee for further discussion, the technical euphemism for dragging one’s feet on the issue. Readers may note that, at the time of resignation of SAD’s Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the government had clarified that all the parties, especially the constituents of the NDA, had been taken into confidence, where the Akalis had not voiced any concern.
The trouble started when Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha Harivansh went by the convention of numbers to negate an opposition resolution. He moved to pass the bills by voice vote. The opposition demanded physical voting, pointing out that they were sitting in the parliament. When the chair refused, they rushed to the well of the house, attempted to tear up the rule book and tried to snatch the deputy chairman’s microphone.
“Mahabharat has broken out inside parliament,” Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad said. Several opposition MPs played to the gallery by recording the moment on phones and turning more dramatic in their conduct before the cameras, drawing a repeated rebuke from the chair.
Insisting that the chair was not following the rules, O’ Brien, whose point of order Harivansh had not accepted, said, “This is a brutal murder of the Parliamentary democratic system”.
The deputy chairman adjourned the house immediately for 10 minutes and after it resumed. The voice vote took place amid repeated slogans from the opposition who again parked themselves in the well of the house.
In a video statement, O’Brien who could earlier be seen waving the rule book, subsequently said the Rajya Sabha TV was “cut off” and censored”. “The members of the opposition asked for a vote. We were denied it… It is a historic day, in the worst sense,” he tweeted.
A section of farmer unions that are used to getting dole-outs in the form of minimum support prices and bail-outs in the form of loan waivers that devastate Indian banking insist the proposed laws are “anti-farmer” and will also affect commission agents and farm labourers. This, despite repeated assurances from the prime minister and the government that both MSP and government procurement will continue.