Budget Session Day 3: RS resolves deadlock to debate farm issues; Lok Sabha fails to function over repeated Opposition protests
Lok Sabha proceedings were adjourned four times on Wednesday as the protesting opposition members demanded a separate discussion on the farm laws issue
The third day of the Budget Session remained inconducive for debate or any substantial business in the Lok Sabha as Speaker Om Birla struggled to maintain order and had to repeatedly adjourn House within minutes of convening.
The Rajya Sabha, meanwhile, witnessed a fiery debate on the farmers' issue after two days of deadlock and repeated adjournment. Members from Opposition parties criticised the government on its handling of the farmers protest, and what they termed an "ego" issue in negotiations with the farmers.
The debate could move forward in the House of Elders after Opposition parties agreed to the government's proposal to touch upon the farmers' issue while debating on Motion of Thanks to the President's Address.
The only party who disagreed with this arrangement was the Aam Aadmi Party which alleged that the Congress had colluded with the Centre to sell out farmer's interests.
Party MPs loudly protested in the Well and refused to leave the House despite Chairman's request, following which they were ordered to be removed from the House under a rarely used regulation in the Rajya Sabha rule book.
Lok Sabha proceedings were adjourned five times on Wednesday as the protesting Opposition members demanded a separate discussion on the farm laws issue. As soon as the House met at 4 pm, Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury tried to raise the issue of farmers' agitation, saying that the matter is maligning the image of the country.
"We are concerned," he said.
— PRS Legislative (@PRSLegislative) February 3, 2021
Urging members to return to their seats, Speaker Om Birla said they should maintain the dignity of the House or else he will have to take disciplinary actions against those who violate norms. He said the Question Hour is important and it should go on. But Opposition members refused to relent, forcing him to adjourn the proceedings till 4.30 pm.
Following the first adjournment when the house reassembled at 4:30 pm, Chowdhury demanded that there should be a separate discussion on the Presidential address and the farmers' issue. The Speaker said the members should maintain the dignity of the House and return to the seats. He said that sufficient time and opportunity would be given to them to express their views.
Birla urged AAP leader Bhagwant Mann to go to his seat if he wanted a discussion and warned him of action. But the Opposition members refused to relent, forcing Birla to adjourn the proceedings again till 5 pm.
When the House met the next time, Birla allowed some papers to be laid on the table of the House. But the din had started even before he had taken his seat. The shouting grew even louder as Birla tried to convince the members to allow them to conduct the Zero Hour, a dedicated time when MPs can bring to attention any issue being faced by the people of their constituency.
Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Pralhad Joshi told Opposition members that Rajya Sabha members have agreed to discuss farm issues during the Motion of Thanks to President, adding that Lok Sabha should look at a similar solution to the current deadlock. Opposition MPs, however, said they want a separate dedicated debate on the same.
When the House reconvened at 9 pm, Minister of State Parliamentary Affairs, Arjun Ram Meghwal repeated Joshi's proposition stating that it was incumbent upon the House by tradition to pass the Motion of Thanks on President's Address. "It's yours and ours constitutional responsibility. And you had agreed to it in a closed door meeting," Meghwal told Opposition leaders.
Choudhury, however, said that the situation faced by farmers were cruel and the government had to give the Parliament the right to debate the biggest issue facing the National Capital. The House was then adjourned for the day just six minutes within convening.
Several Opposition parties including the Congress and the DMK on Wednesday asked the government to withdraw the three contentious farm laws without making it a prestige issue and not to treat the agitating farmers as "enemies".
Participating in the discussion on the Motion on Thanks to President's Address to the joint sitting of Parliament, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha and Congress member Ghulam Nabi Azad suggested that Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself should make the announcement on repeal of the laws. Modi was present in the House at the time.
Declaring that disrespect to the national flag cannot be tolerated, he also condemned the violence at the Red Fort during the farmers' tractor rally on Republic Day.
"I urge the government to withdraw these three bills," he said, and added that the government should set up a committee to find out the whereabouts of people "who have gone missing" during the farmers' protest. The senior Congress leader cited several examples, including one during his own party's rule in 1988, of the government giving in to the demands of farmers.
Highlighting the problems which farmers would face because of the new laws, Azad said government should not see repealing of the legislations as a "prestige issue".
Describing farmers as "annadata", the Congress veteran said there was no point in confronting them. Instead, the government should focus on other important issues, including on revival of the economy.
DMK MP Tiruchi Siva sought assurance from the government and the prime minister on the repeal of the three contentious laws that have led to protests at border points of the National Capital and several parts of the country.
He also expressed concern over the manner in which the farm bills were passed last year, but Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu said that everything was done according to rule. "As per the demand of our party president MK Stalin, I would urge the government, the prime minister in his reply should assure repealing of these farm laws," Siva said.
Attacking the Centre for heavy barricading of farmer protest sites in the National Capital, Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav urged the government not to treat farmers as "enemies" and concede to their demand for repeal of these laws.
Yadav alleged that the government has become "merciless and cruel' as it is not even been affected by the death of some farmers during the ongoing agitation.
Warning that bigwigs in power have to step down when farmers revolt, the SP leader said, "People should not be power-drunk. You should talk with farmers. This is democracy. They are a larger chunk of our population. Please go and convince them... Tell that you will withdraw these laws and bring a new bill."
He also demanded the government announce a compensation of Rs 20 lakh to family of those who died during the protest and a government job to their children.
"Our farmers are sitting for months on protest. Many farmers have lost their lives due to cold, hunger and other reasons. But the government has become merciless and cruel. Nothing is affecting it. There is no impact," he said.
On the security at the three protest sites, Yadav said, "Be it Ghazipur, Tikri or Singhu, roads are cemented with a bed of nails and concrete walls. The security at protest sites is more than (that in) our Parliament. Even at Pakistan borders, such security is not there. Are they coming to attack Delhi?"
"Are they (farmers) enemies?" he asked.
"Farmers not only feed the country, but those protecting our borders also come from their families. They don't come from families whom you are working for," he told the government.
CPM member Elamaram Kareem said these laws were enacted "without proper consideration or taking into confidence the opposition parties".
He alleged that many farmer leaders have been booked under "fake" charges after the "unfortunate" incident which took place on 26 January.
"It (violence) was condemned by the organisers and the Opposition parties who are part of the peaceful protest," he said and charged the government with trying to weaken the democratic protest by perpetuating violence and using force.
"Even electricity and water supplies to the protest sites have been disconnected by the government. I urge the government to yield to the demands of the farmers and withdraw the farm laws immediately," he added.
The Aam Aadmi Party, meanwhile, was not happy with this turn of events as it accused both BJP and Congress of cutting a deal to go easy on government in Parliament over farmers' issues. They continued with their protests in the House after which three party MPs were marshalled out and suspended for the day.
AAP MPs escorted from Rajya Sabha
Three AAP MPs including Sanjay Singh were escorted out of the Rajya Sabha after they disrupted proceedings over the three contentious farm reform laws and refused to heed to Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu's plea for order.
— AAP (@AamAadmiParty) February 3, 2021
The slogan-shouting AAP members stormed into the Well of the House just as the Rajya Sabha took up a discussion on a motion thanking the President for his address to the joint sitting of Parliament.
Naidu repeatedly asked them to return to their seats and not disrupt the proceedings.
But with his requests going unheeded, the Chairman invoked rules of the House to suspend them for the rest of the day and asked them to withdraw from the House. The MPs, however, did not go out of the House and continued raising slogans when the Rajya Sabha resumed functioning.
Naidu again asked them to withdraw from the House and upon their refusal, he ordered marshals to escort them out.
The unruly scenes started soon after the Chair announced consensus between the government and the opposition on extending the duration of the debate on a motion thanking the President for his address to the joint sitting of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha at the start of the Budget session last week.
An extra five hours that took the duration to 15 hours was to allow members to raise the issue of farmers' protests.
As the AAP MPs stormed into the Well, Naidu warned that he would name them if they did not go back to their places. When a member is named by the Chair, he or she has to withdraw from the House for the rest of the duration of the day. But the AAP members refused to heed to his pleas.
"I am compelled to use Rule 255... Sanjay Singh, Sushil Kumar Gupta, N D Gupta, all of these members are named as per Rule 255. Please withdraw from the House. Please go out of the House," Naidu said as they continued raising slogans.
Rule 255 of Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Council of States (Rajya Sabha) is regarding 'withdrawal of member'.
Under the rule, the Chairman may direct any member whose conduct is in his opinion grossly disorderly to withdraw immediately from the Council, and any member so ordered to withdraw shall do so forthwith and shall absent himself during the remainder of the day's meeting.
As the AAP MPs did not withdraw, the Chairman said: "Please Marshals, help them to leave the House".
As members continued to raise slogans from the lobby after they were removed from the House, Naidu said that they be cleared from there so as not to distract other MPs.
Thousands of farmers have been protesting at the Delhi borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, demanding a rollback of the three laws: Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.
The protesting farmers have expressed the apprehension that these laws would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price (MSP) system, leaving them at the "mercy" of big corporations.
However, the government has maintained that the new laws will bring better opportunities to farmers and introduce new technologies in agriculture.
Eleven rounds of formal talks between the government and the protesting farmer unions failed to break the deadlock. While unions have stuck to their main demand of repeal of the laws and legal guarantee of MSP, the government has offered some concessions including keeping these laws on hold for 1-1.5 years.
Even the Supreme Court has stayed the laws for two months and set up a panel to look into the matter.
With inputs from PTI
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