Parliament Monsoon Session: LS passes farm bills as Harsimrat Kaur Badal quits PM's Cabinet in protest; RS discusses COVID-19 management
In the Rajya Sabha, Union minister Harsh Vardhan said that a coronavirus vaccine is likely to be available in India by early next year and added that the Centre is aiming to bring down India's COVID-19 mortality rate
Lok Sabha passed two bills related to the agriculture sector on the fourth day of Monsoon Session of Parliament amid vehement opposition to the legislation, with Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal resigning as Union minister "in protest against anti-farmer" legislations.
The bills — 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 — by voice vote in an extended session.
"Proud to stand with farmers as their daughter and sister," Harsimrat tweeted, after SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal announced in the Lok Sabha that the party would withdraw its member from the Union Cabinet.
Harsimrat is the only representative of SAD in the Union government, and the regional party is one of the BJP's oldest allies.
Opposing the bills, SAD said, "Punjab has spent its last 50 years to develop the state's agriculture situation. The Bill will allow corporate and private companies to interfere in this, which Akali Dal will never allow."
Other Opposition MPs in the Lower House also countered the Centre's farm legislations. The parties said the bills will "facilitate the interests of corporations" and that farmers will "suffer huge losses" due to the proposed laws.
However, Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said that the legislations will "help to develop" the agriculture sector. Responding the MPs' arguments on the issue, Tomar said that the bills will equip farmers to "get better prices".
"This bill will lead to more traders competing for farmers producution, so farmers will get better prices now," he was quoted by The Hindu as saying and added that the it "will bring an end to license, Inspector Raj and corruption".
Addressing the criticism over the inclusion of contract farming in the legislations, Tomar said the concept is meant to "help farmers".
He said that the bill will ensure that many services will reach small farmers. "Contract will not lead to taking over of land. If the corporates build some infrastructure, it will only benefit the farmer in the end," he added.
Farm bills aim to facilitate corporate interests, say LS Opposition MPs
The Opposition parties against the bills included the Congress, DMK, Trinamool Congress, RSP, Bahujan Samaj Party, AIMIM, TRS, AAP, and the Samajwadi Party.
Congress MP Ravneet Singh from Punjab's Ludhiana emphasised on the importance of Minimum Support Price (MSP) and said, "75 percent farmers in Punjab are not so affluent. We collect about Rs 3,631 crore at mandis (markets), which are used for the farmers' welfare infrastructures and are created and maintained using the funds.
"Agriculture does not come under your legislative competence. Under the proposed law, will the small time farmers be able to resolve disputes with big players? Businessmen would set up mandis and operate without any licence. The Food Corporation of India procures grains for the entire country, you are now doing away with it."
Meanwhile, Revolutionary Socialist Party MP NK Premachandran was quoted by The Hindu as saying that the bills have been introduced to "deregulate agriculture farming".
Quoting farmer suicide statistics, he added that "aggressive" agricultural reforms have harmed the farmers.
"NCRB reports show more than 3 lakh farmers ended their life in between 1995-2005. (With these bills)..farming community will be exploited. All the ordinances aim to facilitate the interests of corporates," he said.
Meanwhile, TMC MPs Mahua Moitra and Kalyan Banerjee said that the bills are "thoroughly unconstitutional" because the Lok Sabha "cannot legislate on the issue of agriculture produce".
Stating that poor and marginal farmers will be affected, Banerjee added, "Small and marginal farmers will be forced to enter into agreement. Effect of the Bill is that such farmers will be forced to enter into agreement under the conditions set by the superior bargaining parties, big industrialists. They will be forced into litigation.
"It wouldn't be possible for them to pursue litigation up till Supreme Court. The proposed provisions will also lead to hoarding and black marketing, profiteering, consumers will suffer..The entire agriculture industry will move towards privatisation."
Meanwhile, while the BJD asked the Centre to send the Bill to the Standing Committee for scrutiny, the BSP said that if not for the COVID-19 pandemic, "farmers would have been in the streets of Delhi".
Additionally, the BJP's estranged ally, the Shiv Sena, supported the bills but sought clarification on how the Centre plans to merge the existing agriculture framework and the the framework proposed in the bills.
Similarly, the TDP was also quoted as saying that the party supports the bills, but is concerned about whether the Parliament has the competency to make laws regarding agriculture.
"On the other hand, Agricultural Produce & Livestock Market Committee (APMC) is already in place, so how will this be integrated. There's no clarity on it, " Party MP Ram Mohan Naidu said, according to The Hindu.
On the other hand, the JD(U) and AIADMK joined BJP MPs in supporting the bills.
Earlier on Thursday, the Congress staged a protest against the farm bills in front of Mahatma Gandhi's statue in the Parliament complex.
The party said that the bills defeat the purpose of the Green Revolution and will be "a death knell for the future of farming" as it alleged that the Modi dispensation, akin to the coronavirus pandemic, was attacking lives and livelihood of farmers. Some Congress MPs from Punjab also burnt copies of the farm bills inside the Parliament Complex.
Farmers in Punjab and Haryana have been protesting against the ordinances promulgated by the Centre in June.
COVID-19 vaccine likely by early next year, Centre tells RS
In the Rajya Sabha, Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said that a coronavirus vaccine is likely to be available in India by early next year and added that the Centre is aiming to bring down India's COVID-19 mortality rate to less than one percent from the current 1.64 percent, which is "still the lowest in the world".
Replying to a debate in the Upper House, he said the country's recovery rate of 78-79 percent is one of the highest in the world, adding though the total cases may have crossed 50 lakh, but the active cases are less than 20 percent.
Deaths in India due to coronavirus pandemic are less than many nations in Europe and the government was determined to better the testing rate of the US, he said.
Vardhan emphasised that efforts were being made to produce a vaccine by the ICMR, the Science and Technology ministry and drug companies, but it was still necessary for people to follow social distancing and wear masks.
"Vaccines can come in future. Extensive planning is underway to execute how to manage the scenario, " Vardhan said. He said there are three vaccine candidates which have reached phase one, two or phase three level.
"Under the prime minister, an expert group is studying this. We expect by the beginning of next year we can have a vaccine in the country. In this regard we are also coordinating with WHO and global organisations," he said. India is among few countries globally which has been able to isolate the virus, Vardhan noted.
He said that various international experts had predicted that the cases in India will rise to 300 million by July-August, resulting in death of 5-6 million people.
"In the country of 135 crore people, we are doing 11 lakh tests now and are second to the US only. It has been possible only due to the united fight against the disease," he said.
Terming the lockdown a historic step, he said the measure taught people to fight the pandemic.
In the backdrop of criticism over the Centre claiming that it had no data on deaths of migrant labourers during the COVID-19 lockdown, Vardhan on Thursday said, "There is no doubt that for some time migrant workers faced problems... during the COVID19 period, 64 lakh of our migrant workers were sent to their native places by trains, buses."
Meanwhile, the BJP and Aam Aadmi Party sparred over the issue of COVID-19 management during a debate in Rajya Sabha on Thursday, with the AAP terming as "foolish" Modi's call to clap and beat utensils in honour of coronavirus warriors.
BJP's Sudhanshu Trivedi hit back, saying the prime minister's move was symbolic and sought to unite the country socially just like Mahatma Gandhi chose the symbol of 'charkha' for national cohesion during the freedom struggle.
China violated peace in Ladakh, says Rajnath Singh in RS over LAC issue
Defence minister Rajnath Singh addressed the Rajya Sabha on Thursday regarding the border row with China along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh.
"China has shown complete disregard for bilateral agreements and violated peace in the east Ladakh," he said in the Upper House, days after Congress MPs in the Lower House had staged a walkout claiming that the Centre is unwilling to discuss the India-China border row.
Rajnath said that China has, in the recent past, illegally occupied 38,000 square kilometres of India's territory in Ladakh, added that Beijing has undertaken significant infrastructure construction along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).
"Our government too has stepped up the budget for border infrastructure development to about double the previous levels," Rajnath said.
The defence minister added that amassing of troops by China along the LAC goes against the 1993 and 1996 agreements.
On their part, Opposition leaders in the Upper House asked the Centre to restore status quo ante on the India-China border.
Cutting across party lines, members expressed their solidarity and support to the armed forces, which are facing a standoff situation against the Chinese army in eastern Ladakh.
Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, Anad Sharma and former defence minister AK Antony of the Congress asked the government to take efforts to restore the status quo ante of April and resolve the over three-month-old border standoff.
Some members such as Prasanna Acharya of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and Sanjay Raut of the Shiv Sena cautioned the government while entering into any agreement with China over the present situation.
PDP MP demands release of leaders under detention in Jammu and Kashmir
Rajya Sabha MP and PDP leader Mir Mohammad Fayaz demanded the release of all detained political leaders and workers, including his party's chief Mehbooba Mufti, saying they are under detention in Jammu and Kashmir for over one year.
Raising the matter during Zero Hour in the Rajya Sabha, Fayaz said Article 370 was abrogated on 5 August last year and thousands, including political leaders, were arrested on the same night.
"...a year has passed. Still many leaders are detained under the PSA (Public Safety Act) or under house arrest," he said.
Mufti, a former chief minister and three-time Member of Parliament, has been booked under the PSA alleging she is a "threat" to the country, Fayaz said. He further said while many have been released, still hundreds are under detention.
He also said that mainstream political leaders fear of being arrested in raising public issues.
With inputs from agencies
The farmers squatted at the gates of the mini-secretariat on Tuesday evening after talks with the local administration failed.
On Wednesday, the district administration again invited a delegation of Samyukt Kisan Morcha leaders for a meeting at 2 pm in another bid to end the standoff.
Farmers protest: Haryana minister Anil Vij says govt ready for impartial probe into 'entire Karnal episode'
The minister said that the probe would include an IAS officer's controversial remark and a police lathicharge on farmers that has triggered a sit-in outside the district headquarters by protesting farmers