'Death Warrant': Opposition Slams Rushed Passing of Two Controversial Farm Bills

The opposition has said that the two bills are aimed at benefitting big corporates by ending MSP, and demanded that they be sent to the select committee for scrutiny.

New Delhi:  The Rajya Sabha on Sunday passed the Farmers’ and Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020. The Bills were passed by voice vote amid uproar by the opposition, which has said that it will not sign a “death warrant” on farmers.

Several opposition parties have demanded that the Bills be sent to the select committee for scrutiny. Meanwhile, the ruling BJP has accused the parties of misleading the farmers. Farmers across the country have taken to the roads to fiercely protest the Bills as they fear they will eliminate MSP and benefit corporates.

Opposition parties also moved a no-confidence motion against Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman Harivansh Narayan Singh after he overruled opposition pleas for postponing agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar’s reply to the debate on the two farm bills till Monday as the scheduled sitting time of the House was over.

The bills were passed by a choice vote and not a division of votes, even though the Congress, TMC and Left made a demand to the deputy chairperson.

K.K. Ragesh (CPI-M), Derek O’Brien (TMC), Trichi Siva (DMK) and K.C. Venugopal (Congress) moved resolutions to send the two Bills to a select committee of the House for consideration before they are taken up for passage.

Also read: Agri Reforms: Farmers Protest, Modi Says Leaders’ Versions Are Misleading. What’s the Truth?

Initiating the discussion on the two Bills, Congress leader Partap Singh Bajwa slammed them as “ill-conceived and ill-timed” and said his party “completely rejects” them. “We will not sign on death warrants of farmers,” he said.

He said the Bills are against the spirit of cooperative federalism.

“We do not want any tinkering in APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) and the minimum support price ( MSP),” he said, and wondered what was the need to bring these Bills during the COVID-19 crisis.

Referring to protests by farmers in some states, Bajwa said: “Those whom you want to benefit are on the streets”.

Bajwa said the Bills have been brought with an “intention of ending the MSP (minimum support price) operations”. “Slowly, the government will come out of this and then Ambani, Adani and big corporate houses will enter (market),” he alleged.

He said the two Bills are against the economic interest of Punjab, which has contributed a lot in making India self-sufficient in foodgrain production.

Defending the two Bills, Bhupender Yadav of the BJP said that the Congress was doing politics over the issue and misleading farmers. He asked the Congress why the farmers’ income did not increase in the last 60-70 years even as the country became self-sufficient in farm production.

These two important Bills are the biggest agriculture reform in the country and will give justice to farmers by increasing their income, Yadav said. He said the new age agriculture Bills will boost processing, marketing and exports of farm produce.

Yadav said a report of the working group of agriculture production in 2010 suggested similar reforms. “Today, you (Congress) are doing politics. You are doing injustice with farmers because of politics,” he said.

TMC leader Derek O’Brien demanded that the Bills should be sent to a select committee. “These Bills need to be debated in Parliament. You have the numbers to have your way and we have the right to have our say and to keep you on track of Parliamentary democracy. This is a very very dangerous trend we are following. Select committee is not a hand break…it is there to contribute. I am going to move select committee,” he said.

“The PM said the opposition is trying to mislead the farmers. Let us see what credibility you have to make these speeches. You promised to double farmers’ income by 2022. At the current rate, the farmer incomes would not double till 2028,” he said.

Noting that the government promised two crore jobs every year, he said: “Now you have the highest unemployment.”

Taking to Twitter afterwards, the MP spoke of how the BJP has steamrolled the Bills through parliament without allowing for a proper discussion:

O’ Brien claimed that had there been a division, the government would have lost the the vote. To avoid that scenario, he said, the government conspired with the deputy chairman Harivansh to pass the contentious bills through a voice vote.

Even the Congress, in a late night conference, likened today’s proceedings in the upper house as a grave, unprecedented attack on parliamentary democracy in which opposition parties were forcibly silenced. Congress’s general secretary K.C.Venugopal alleged that BJP MP Bhupendra Yadav whispered something in the deputy chairman’s ear after which the passage of the bills were rushed through a voice vote.

O’ Brien also said that Rajya Sabha TV’s telecast of the whole episode was censored so that people could not see how the government pushed through the bills in a highhanded autocratic way, despite widespread protests across the country.

Although his claim that the government would have lost the vote can’t be verified, all non-NDA parties, except YSR Congress, opposed the bills. Telangana Rashtra Samithi and AIADMK which have supported the government in most of its decisions, also opposed the bills. The friendly Biju Janata Dal, too, moved a resolution to send the farm bills to a standing committee for a review. The SAD, a part of NDA, also opposed the bills, and its lone minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal in the Modi’s cabinet, had resigned in protest two days ago. The issue of the farm Bills was one of the most contested debates in the parliament in which the opposition could muster enough unity to pose a threat to the government.

The Samajwadi Party’s Ram Gopal Yadav said there seems to be some compulsion that the ruling party does not want to discuss the Bills and is in a hurry to pass them.

Also read: ‘Intent Behind Farmer Bills Is to Avoid Accountability for Ensuring Fair Price to Producers’

“It appears that this Bill has not been drafted by you. A son of a farmer cannot draft such a Bill. When you go back to your native place, the youths would ask you what were you doing when our death warrants were being issued in parliament,” he asked.

Tiruchi Siva (DMK) alleged the government’s intention was to “sell the farmers” and make them dependent.

Siva claimed the government said it was an attempt to save farmers from the clutches of traders but in fact it was to send them into the clutches of corporates, as he questioned the government’s “sudden affection” towards farmers.

Shaktisingh Gohil (Cong) said farmers will be “ruined” by these Bills and demanded to know how the government will convince the masses when it could not convince its Cabinet colleague. He demanded sending it to a Select Committee.

Former Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda, who took oath as a member of the Upper House today, suggested forming a permanent commission to advise the government on MSP and other issues.

Ahmed Patel (Congress) said UPA’s NYAY (Nyuntam Aay Yojana) scheme has promised an income of Rs 72,000 per year to the poorest 20% households in India.

Patel claimed that the previous government has added 70% people in the National Food Security Act but the present government reduced it to 20%.

Akhilesh Prasad Singh (Cong) and Dola Sen ( Trinamool Congress) termed the Bills anti-farmers.

(With inputs from PTI)