Two of the three agriculture-related legislation piloted by the Narendra Modi government, aimed at liberalising the farm sector, were passed by the Rajya Sabha by voice vote on Sunday amid a din as the Opposition parties, enraged by the refusal of Deputy Chairman Harivansh to allow voting on resolutions they moved, broke microphones, stood up on tables and flung papers in the air.
The legislation — 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, were cleared by the Lok Sabha last week.
Explainer | Why are the Agriculture Bills being opposed
Death warrant: Congress
The Rajya Sabha saw a peaceful debate till 1 p.m., when the proceedings were scheduled to end. The Congress, the Trinamool Congress, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi, the Samajwadi Party, the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Aam Aadmi Party and the two Left parties vehemently opposed the Bills, asking the government to send them to a Parliament panel for further scrutiny.
Congress MP Pratap Singh Bajwa said his party would not sign the “death warrant” of farmers.
Among the BJP allies and friendly parties, the JD(U) and the YSR Congress supported the Bills. The AIADMK spoke against the Bills, with MP S.R. Balasubramoniyan calling them a way to “disinvest” in agriculture. Biju Janata Dal MP Amar Patnaik said the Bills had good intent but ignored the implementation problems. He asked the government to send them to a Select Committee.
Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar was in the process of wrapping up his reply to the debate when the situation started spiralling down after Mr. Harivansh rejected the demand from the Opposition benches to end the session for the day as per the schedule. The Opposition wanted the Minister to conclude the reply on Monday enabling more time for the resolutions moved by them against the Bills.
Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad also suggested that tradition dictates that the decision to extend the time of the House is not taken on the strength of the numbers but on the basis of consensus. Aam Aadmi Party MP Sanjay Singh, TMC members Dola Sen and Arpita Ghosh marched into the well of the House raising slogans against the legislations. Mr. Harivansh’s repeated pleas reminding the members that physical distancing measures need to be followed because of the COVID-19 pandemic went unheard.
The breaking point came when Mr. Harivansh called out for statutory resolution disapproving the legislation moved by CPI(M) MP K.K. Ragesh. Mr. Ragesh was in the well of the House when his name was called out, but on the directions from the Deputy Chairman, he claims, he ran to his seat. “I was in my seat when I asked for a vote, but the Deputy Chairman completely ignored my demand. The rules dictate that even if one member of the House asks for a resolution to be put to vote, it should be. This was clearly undemocratic,” Mr. Ragesh said. He said he was pushed to the floor by the marshals and has sustained minor injury on his shoulder.
The situation had got out of hand with AAP’s Sanjay Singh and Congress members Rajeev Satav and Syed Naseer Hussain climbing on the table in front of the Secretary General. They were carried away by the marshals. Amidst the ruckus, microphones of both the Secretary General and the Deputy Chairman were broken. Many papers were torn and flung in the air. The MPs shot the proceedings on their phones because for many minutes the Rajya Sabha TV went mute and also made sure that the Opposition protests were not shown on the screen. The House was adjourned close to 1:26 p.m. for 15-minutes. When it was reconvened, two rings of marshals protected the Chair. The Bills were passed hurriedly amid the din.
A war of words broke between the government and the treasury benches. “The dictatorial attitude of the Chair in not wanting to get a sense of the House, which is the convention to extend the session beyond the scheduled 1 p.m., led to bedlam & chaos. The anti-farmer Bills were passed in the din without voting. Why the tearing urgency? On whose orders?” Congress Chief Whip in Rajya Sabha Jairam Ramesh asked.
Parliamentary party floor leader of Trinamool Congress Party Derek O’Brien in a video message denied the charge made by the BJP that he tore the rule book in the well of the House. “The bottom line is that the Opposition wanted a vote on the farmers Bills and the BJP did not want to vote because it did not have numbers. This story does not end here. The BJP told you it is a historic day, but it is a sad day for Parliamentary democracy,” he said.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi singled out the Congress, the TMC and the DMK for the uproar. He accused the Opposition of being autocratic saying they behave like “Badshah” (King). “This is the height of indiscipline and intolerance. People have given mandate to PM Narendra Modi. This is an insult to people’s mandate. They should have asked for division, what else do they want,” Mr. Joshi said.