Govt pushes key bills through RS, overriding Opposition demands
PM says the Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, would transform agriculture
Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed what he called a “watershed moment" after the government managed to get two controversial farm bills voted through in the Rajya Sabha on Sunday, overriding strident opposition demands for scrutiny by a house committee.
The bills, which have triggered widespread farmers’ protest and prompted a walkout by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) from the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), are set to become law once they receive the President’s assent.
Modi said the Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, would transform agriculture and empower millions of farmers after the bills were approved by a voice vote amid disruptions.
The Bharatiya Janata Party, with 86 MPs, won the day with support from YSR Congress Party, Biju Janata Dal and All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam. Congress, SAD, Rashtriya Janata Dal and the Left opposed it.
The opposition and some NDA partners demanded that the two bills should be sent to a parliamentary committee for greater scrutiny but were unable to muster the required numbers.
“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. Our agriculture sector is in desperate need of the latest technology that assists the industrious farmers. Now, with the passage of the bills, our farmers will have easier access to futuristic technology that will boost production and yield better results. This is a welcome step," Modi tweeted after the passage of bills.
He said the system of minimum support price or MSP and government procurement will remain.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi has assured that there will be no change in MSP and this bill will benefit the farmers. The Union government has taken several steps to ensure that income of farmers increases," said agriculture minister N.S. Tomar in his reply to the Rajya Sabha.
The opposition’s key concerns are that the bills will hurt MSP, promote corporatization of the farm sector, attack India’s federal structure (agriculture and markets are state subjects) and that they were drafted without consulting farm bodies.
“These bills are ill-conceived and ill-timed and Congress party completely rejects it. We are not ready to sign death warrants of farmers on this. Punjab and Haryana’s economy will get completely finished," Pratap Singh Bajwa, a senior Congress leader, said in the House.
The Congress demand for sending the bills for further parliamentary scrutiny was also supported by the Trinamool Congress, Samajwadi Party and Telangana Rashtra Samiti.
“What is the compulsion to bring the bills now?... Why is the government not ready to debate and discuss the bills? Why is the government not ready for greater scrutiny?" Ram Gopal Yadav of Samajwadi Party told the House.
Several opposition MPs stormed the well of the House and protests continued even after Rajya Sabha was adjourned. Taking a strong stand against deputy chairman Harivansh, who was chairing the House while the bills were being passed, 12 opposition parties have now moved a no-confidence motion against him.
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, seeks to give freedom to farmers to sell produce outside the notified APMC market yards (mandis) and is aimed at facilitating remunerative prices through competitive alternative trading channels. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020, seeks to give farmers the right to enter into a contract with agribusiness firms, processors, wholesalers, exporters, or large retailers for the sale of future farming produce at a pre-agreed price.
A third Bill—The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020—seeks to remove commodities like cereals, pulses, oilseeds, onion, and potatoes from the list of essential commodities and do away with the imposition of stock holding limits. It is scheduled to be moved separately in the Rajya Sabha. All the three bills have already been passed by the Lok Sabha.