Parliament passes two key farm bills

Farmers shout slogans in Amritsar on Sunday over the passage of two key farm bills in Parliament.

New Delhi: Two key farm bills, dubbed as the biggest reform in agriculture by the government, were on Sunday passed by Rajya Sabha with voice vote amid unprecedented unruly scenes by protesting Opposition members who were demanding that the proposed legislation be referred to a House panel for greater scrutiny.

The farmers produce trade and commerce (promotion and facilitation) bill, 2020, and the farmers (empowerment and protection) agreement of price assurance and farm services bill, 2020 have already been passed by Lok Sabha and will now go to the President for his assent before they are notified as laws.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi termed it as a “watershed moment” in the history of Indian agriculture, asserting that the bills will ensure a complete transformation of the farm sector and add impetus to the efforts to double the income of farmers.

The Congress and other Opposition parties slammed the bills as “death warrants” of farmers, and called it a “black day for democracy”.

After a heated debate, Rajya Sabha passed the two bills amid a bedlam as some Opposition members, ignoring the COVID-19 protocol, charged towards the podium of Deputy Chairman Harivansh, flung the rule book at him and tore official papers.

They yanked his microphone and heckled him over their demand for a division of vote on their motion to refer the legislation to a select committee.

Twelve Opposition parties later also gave a notice for a no-confidence motion against the Deputy Chairman over the manner in which the two  bills were passed in the upper House.

Hitting back, the top brass of the central government flayed the Opposition over its members’ “unruly conduct” in Rajya Sabha, calling it “extremely shameful” and unprecedented in Parliament’s history.

Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Prakash Javadekar, Pralhad Joshi, Piyush Goyal, Thawarchand Gehlot and Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi held a press conference where they took on the Opposition, with Singh asserting that such conduct was not expected in a healthy democracy.

In a series of tweets soon after the passage of the bills, the Prime Minister too assured farmers that the existing government support system will continue, an issue raised by the Opposition, farmer outfits as well as the BJP’s oldest ally, Shiromani Akali Dal, which had quit the Modi government in protest against these bills.

SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal, however, stuck to his opposition, urging the President not to sign the bills, and instead return them to Parliament for reconsideration.

“Democracy has been shamed by the manner in which the government passed death warrants against farmers in the form of two farm bills in Rajya Sabha,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted.

Farmers in states like Punjab and Haryana have been protesting against these bills, with their leaders alleging that the legislations will dismantle the existing system and leave them to the mercy of corporate interests.