The Debate on Farmer Trade Bills Intensify

India Oct 06, 2020

On 19 September 2020, Pritam Singh, a 70-year-old farmer hailing from the Akkanwali Village in Mansa district of Punjab died due to the consumption of a poisonous substance during a protest against the Farm Bills in Punjab’s Muktsar district. Although the reason behind this drastic step is still not known, there are speculations that he was in debt and was deeply distressed about the authorization of the new Bills which have received a lot of flak from the farmers, activists, and Opposition parties.

The farmers across the country, particularly in Punjab and Harayana, are up in arms against the Bills as they are apprehensive of the corporatization of the agriculture sector, exploitation of farmers at the hands of big companies and traders, and elimination of the MSP (Minimum Support Price) regime. Many critics and analysts have also cited that under these Bills, farmers would be at a grave disadvantage and the mercy of corporate bigwigs.

Old alliances at stake?

On 17 September 2020, Shiromani Akali Dal’s Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigned from her ministerial portfolio of Food Processing Industries Minister as a mark of protest against the contentious Farm Bills and to affirm her solidarity with the protesting farmers as their “sister and daughter”. Ms. Badal, the wife of party president Sukhbir Singh Badal mentioned that she has taken this big step as she wishes to dissociate herself from a government that acts against the interests of the farmers, who form the backbone of the country’s economy. She also made mention of the horde of farmers who had been striking in front of her own residence, demanding a repeal of the Bills.

Ms. Badal’s resignation from the Union Cabinet has put a big question mark over the future prospects of the 23-year-old strong alliance between the SAD and BJP. However, this is not the first time that the SAD has hinted at possible dissociation from the NDA. In January 2020, senior members of the party reaffirmed the party’s stand that all religions should be included in the CAA proposed by the Central Government.

However, Punjab CM and senior leader of the Indian National Congress, Captain Amarinder Singh has accused Ms. Badal and Akali Dal of ‘enacting theatrics’ to ‘save their own dwindling political fortunes’ and not actually standing with the farmers.

Unruly chaos in the Upper Chamber

Despite vitriolic protests, the bills were passed by the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha by a voice vote on 17th September and 20th September respectively. The bills that were passed were 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.

However, the passage of the bills was followed by chaos and uproar in the House. The Opposition MPs were repeatedly denied a physical vote. The Rajya Sabha TV (RSTV) muted its audio telecast of the proceedings as the Opposition protested against the hurried passing of the Bills.

Many critics have stated that the aforementioned actions are undemocratic and antithetical to the principles enshrined in the Constitution. Denying opposition MPs a physical vote is undemocratic in nature and so is muzzling the media, which is essentially what happened when Rajya Sabha TV audio was muted.

Reactions to the ‘undemocratic passage’

In an uncontrolled fit of pique, Trinamool Congress’ MP, Derek O’Brien was seen attempting to tear the Rule Book of the Rajya Sabha and also yanking the mic of the Chair. However, Derek claims to have footage of the entire ruckus that ensued in the House, which he said he will release when the time comes. He also remarked on the unscrupulous and undemocratic procedure followed by the House to pass the Bills. He also mentioned that the Chair repeatedly denied the Opposition members a physical vote.

As a swift reaction to that, Rajya Sabha Chairman, Venkaiah Naidu has suspended 8 MPs, for a week, on grounds of grave misconduct and unruly behavior in the House. These 8 MPs include TMC’s Derek O’Brien and AAP’s Sanjay Singh among others. The anguished MPs have begun an overnight sit-in protest at Parliament premises. Many other Opposition leaders have thrown their weight behind the protesting MPs such as SP’s Jaya Bachchan and NCP’s Praful Patel.

Speaking to the media outside the Parliament, parliamentary affairs minister Prahlad Joshi rebuked the Opposition for their “unruly and reckless” behavior by calling it “an insult of the people’s mandate”.

This article has been written by Ishaan Singh for The Paradigm

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