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Farm Bills: English Newspapers Condemn RS Deputy Chairman's Decision to Hold Voice Vote

Deputy chairman Harivansh Narayan Singh’s refusal to conduct a division of votes has been criticised.

Mumbai: Editorials across English newspapers have unanimously criticised Rajya Sabha deputy chairman Harivansh Narayan Singh’s refusal to conduct a division of votes and the subsequent chaos that followed while passing The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, and The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 on September 20.

Hindustan Times, which had earlier supported the government’s efforts to bring about a new legislative and policy architecture for agriculture as a “method to empower farmers”, felt on Sunday, the process was undermined in the Rajya Sabha. This, the paper said, “reflected poorly on India’s parliamentary democracy”. The newspaper observed that the opposition’s keenness on sending the Bills to a select committee should have ideally been followed, and that both the content and process of the Bills should have been honoured.

“The discussion in the House was rushed — since the government wants to push through other legislations quickly, before the session is brought to an early end. And there was no division, but a voice vote — prompting genuine questions about whether the government had the numbers at all,” the editorial stated.

Similarly, The Hindu called the conduct of the Rajya Sabha deputy chairman as a sign of “sheer brazenness”. “The Bills in question have been challenged on constitutional and practical grounds, but that is a different point. The rules of procedure regarding voting are unambiguous that if a voice vote is challenged, “votes shall be taken by operating the automatic vote recorder or by the members going into the Lobbies”,” the paper observed.

Also read: India Needs a Reminder on How Parliament Is Supposed to Function

Calling the explanation that that members were not demanding a division from their seats and claiming that the House was not in order is disingenuous, the paper took a stand that it the disorder was actually triggered by the chair’s refusal to order a division. The newspaper called the chaos “unsavoury” and also blamed the opposition for not “adhering to decorum” while articulating its concern. “Parliament is a deliberative forum and not a theatre for protest demonstration,” the paper observed.

The Indian Express, in its editorial titled ‘The Custodian’, questioned why did Singh not show enough grace inside the House, as he showed in offering tea to the eight opposition MPs suspended for the Sunday fracas. “The job of the presiding officer is to run the House, not just to ensure that the government’s business is done. Any response to unruly behaviour must be consistent with the democratic spirit, and not seen to be influenced by the stand of the party he belongs to or is supported by,” the paper critically noted.

The Times of India took a stand that the two key farm reform Bills by parliament have the potential to boost farm incomes and productivity. It should have been a historic occasion but did not get the solidarity it deserved, the paper observed. “While envisaging a big leap in agricultural trade, the legislations chip away at regulatory privileges enjoyed by state governments. This has stoked farmer unrest in some states and many non-BJP ruled states, and opposition MPs, commanding respectable numbers in Rajya Sabha, came prepared for a confrontation,” the editorial read.