The much-talked-about Bills to allow farmers freedom to trade outside the mandis and facilitate contract farming was passed in the Rajya Sabha on Sunday.
This was amid vehement protest by the Opposition, who questioned the haste in which the legislations were approved, bypassing proper scrutiny.
The Opposition also charged the government of diluting the existing system of minimum support price (MSP) and exposing small Indian farmers to big corporates without adequate safeguards. This allegation has been vehemently denied by the government, including by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
In the evening, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, assisted by five of Cabinet colleagues, defended the Bills and criticised the Opposition’s behaviour as ‘unbecoming’ of healthy Parliamentary practises.
The Bills also faced strong opposition from farmer groups in major grain producing states of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh. These groups alleged that the legislations are an attempt to dilute the MSP-based procurement system.
Farmers staged a massive demonstration in Haryana on Sunday, while protests have been continuing in Punjab since the last few days. Farmer groups have called for a nationwide bandh on September 25 in protest against the passage of the Bills.
“We farmers will now show the government our power and if this government does not change the contents of Bills, we will change them after five years. We will ensure that the MSP system isn’t disturbed and mandis are not dismantled,” said Dharmendra Malik, spokesperson for the Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU), an influential group of farmers.
Malik said they are not opposed to the Bills per se, but just want one line which says rates will not be below the state-mandated MSP for each crop. The opposition Congress, has meanwhile, called a meeting of senior leaders in the next few days to devise an agitation strategy on the Bills.
Experts, meanwhile, also questioned the manner in which the legislations were passed in haste without a proper consultative process.
“The entire process in which the Ordinances were first brought in and then presented in Parliament as Bills without proper consultation with states or other stakeholders leaves lots of questions,” G V Ramanjaneyulu, executive director of the Centre for Sustainable Agriculture.
He said a lot of the current provisions in the Bills — that is, contract farming and allowing trade outside the mandis — were already happening in states.
“How these reforms work also depends a lot on how states create facilities for farmers to get a better price,” said Ramanjaneyulu. He said the government should immediately put in place a mechanism to register all out of mandi transactions or else it may lead to cases of cheating and fraud.
Meanwhile, in the Upper House, trouble started after the House was extended beyond the scheduled time to allow passage of the Bills. Opposition members, who felt such a move should be undertaken only by a consensus, rushed to the Well, shouting slogans against the government and accused it of being anti-farmer.
This forced agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar to cut short his reply and deputy chairman Harivansh took up approval of the Bills.
Four Opposition-sponsored motions to send the two Bills to a House panel for greater scrutiny were negated by voice vote. However, the Congress, TMC, CPM and DMK members sought a division of vote on the issue.
As Harivansh overruled them saying division of votes can take place only when members are on their seat, TMC leader Derek O’Brien charged towards the podium, thrusting the rule book into the face of the deputy chairman. House marshals thwarted the move as also blocking a book that was flung towards Harivansh. An attempt was also made to pulls microphones away from the chair but the marshals physically stopped that from happening.
DMK leader Tiruchi Siva, who along with O’Brien, K C Venugopal of Congress and K K Ragesh of CPM had moved resolutions for sending the Bills to the select committee, tore papers and flung them into the air.
Later, both the Bills were passed by voice vote and amendments moved by the opposition parties rejected.