Parliament's Monsoon Session: RS passes farm bills amid Opposition fury; in LS, Centre faces heat over COVID-19

Rajya Sabha deputy chairman Harivansh took up the bills for passing even as Opposition MPs were protesting in the Well of the House and 'ploughed' through the procedure to pass the bill, eventually declaring them as being passed by voice vote

FP Staff September 20, 2020 21:48:46 IST
Parliament's Monsoon Session: RS passes farm bills amid Opposition fury; in LS, Centre faces heat over COVID-19

Ruckus ensued in the Rajya Sabha on Sunday during debate on Centre's farm bills. ANI

The Rajya Sabha passed two contentious agriculture-related bills amid chaos on Sunday, with the Opposition accusing Deputy Chairman Harivansh of violating House rules on the passage of a Bill and moving a no-confidence motion against him.

Harivansh took up the bills for passing even as Opposition MPs were protesting in the Well of the House and "ploughed" through the procedure to pass the bill, eventually declaring them as being passed by voice vote.

The proposed legislations — 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 — will now be sent to President Ram Nath Kovind for approval, after which they will become laws.

The two bills were promulgated by the Centre as ordinances in June and were cleared by the Lok Sabha on 17 September.

Bedlam ensued in the Upper House after the deputy chairman declined the Opposition's appeals to defer the remainder of the debate on the bills to Monday, as Sunday's session had ended at 1 pm.

The situation escalated with Opposition MPs charging towards the podium of the deputy chairman, flinging the Rajya Sabha's rule book at him, tearing official papers and raising slogans about their demand for a division of vote.

After the conclusion of the Upper House's session, twelve Opposition parties gave a notice for a no-confidence motion against Harivansh over the manner in which the bills were passed.

Defence minister Rajnath Singh condemned the "misbehaviour" witnessed in the Rajya Sabha and said that the proceedings were "seen by the whole country".

"This hasn't ever happened in Parliament history. That it happened in the Rajya Sabha is an even bigger issue. We consider the Rajya Sabha the house of elders. This is against the dignity of Parliament. Can there be violence in a healthy democracy?" he said.

Meanwhile, the Lok Sabha passed three bills — Lok Sabha passes National Forensic Science University Bill, 2020; Lok Sabha passes Rashtriya Raksha University Bill, 2020; Lok Sabha passes National Forensic Science University Bill, 2020.

Ruckus in Rajya Sabha

The Rajya Sabha session on Sunday had nearly ended when Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar began his reply to the debate on the Centre's farm bills, which are being protested  by farmers in Haryana and Punjab.

When Harivansh asked whether the House agrees to extend proceedings till the bills are decided on, the Treasury Benches agreed while the Opposition began protesting against the legislations.

Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad reminded the Chair that the House session can be extended if there is consensus, and added that the consensus was for the House to be adjourned and for proceedings to continue on Monday.

However, while the ruckus forced Tomar to cut short his reply, Harivansh took up the 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, but protesting MPs of the Congress, TMC, CPM and DMK sought a division of vote on the issue.

However, the deputy chairman overruled them saying division of votes can take place only when members are in their seats, and took up voting on amendments amid constant protests from the Opposition.

As voting on amendments began, TMC MP Derek O'Brien approached Harivansh with the Rajya Sabha rulebook, while other MPs reportedly tore official papers and broke the Chair's mic, The Indian Express reported.

House marshals blocked a book that was flung towards Harivansh, and stopped an attempt to pull microphones away from the Chair, PTI reported.

Harivansh, who asked members to go back to their places and not come into the Well due to the COVID-19 protocol, first muted the audio of the live proceedings but with the ruckus continuing, adjourned the proceedings for 15 minutes.

When the House reassembled, Opposition parties chanted slogans but Harivansh carried on with the procedure of putting the bill to voice vote.

As the first bill got voice approval of the House and motions for sending it to a select committee were rejected, at least two MPs tried to climb on the table of Rajya Sabha officers but were pulled down, PTI reported.

Both the bills were passed by voice vote and amendments moved by the Opposition parties rejected.

After the adjournment of the Rajya Sabha session, some MPs continued to occupy the chamber in protest.

As Lok Sabha members who were allotted seats in Rajya Sabha chamber could not enter when the Lower House met, Speaker Om Birla had to adjourn Lower House's proceedings for an hour.

'Farm bills are death warrants'

The TMC, DMK, CPM, Congress began their arguments against the farm bills by moving motions to send both bills to a Select Committee of Parliament.

During the debate in the Rajya Sabha, the Opposition said that the bills are "aimed at benefitting big corporates and ending the minimum price (MSP)-based procurement by the government". However, the Centre has maintained that the MSP system will continue.

Calling the bills a "death warrant" for farmers, Congress MP Partap Singh Bajwa said, "These Bills are ill-conceived and ill-timed and the Congress opposes it."

"Farmers are not illiterate. They understand that this is a way to do away with MSP. Once this is passed, corporate houses will take over farmlands," he said.

Brien pointed out that the Centre had promised a double income for farmers by 2022. "But at the current rate, it not double even by 2028", he added. How many BJP MPs have read these two bills, he quipped.

BJP's ally in Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK, also questioned the bills and said that big companies will be able to take over large portions of land through provisions in the legislations. Party MP SR Balasubramoniyan added that "a farmer will be reduced to a farm worker," The Hindu reported.

Another ally of the BJP, the Shiromani Akali Dal, which was at odds with the saffron party over the bills in the Lok Sabha, also opposed its provisions in the Upper House.

SAD MP Naresh Gujral said, "There is a trust deficit or communication gap which is reflected in the contents of the bills, which is why we are telling this party to send it to select committee."

Party leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal had resigned from the Narendra Modi Cabinet on 17 September in protest of the bills being introduced in the Lok Sabha.

Meanwhile, Congress MP Anand Sharma replied to criticism from the BJP over the Sonia Gandhi-led party having similar provisions in their 2019 Lok Sabha election manifesto.

He was quoted by The Hindu as saying that "the Congress party had proposed measures to protect farmers and MSP. But, BJP MPs have selectively picked two points from the manifesto and is accusing Congress of hypocrisy".

The YSRCP and the ruling party's Bihar ally, JD(U), supported the bills in the Upper House.

In his interrupted reply to the debate, Tomar sought to allay fears over the provision of MSP being overwritten by the new bills.

"Not just these Bills, many steps have been taken to double farmers' income in the past six years. There is no need to doubt that farmers will continue to get MSP," he said.

During the period in which the Upper House was shortly adjourned, O Brien tweeted a video from the central hall of the Parliament saying, "They cheated. They broke every rule in Parliament. It was a historic day. In the worst sense of the word. They cut RSTV feed so the country couldn’t see. They censored RSTV. Don’t spread propaganda. We have evidence."

Lok Sabha discusses COVID-19, FCRA

Several Opposition MPs, including members of the Congress, Samajwadi Party, Shiv Sena, DMK, and TMC slammed the Centre over its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Lok Sabha on Sunday.

The Opposition alleged a failure in the strategy to deal with the coronavirus crisis, saying a sudden lockdown caused hardships to the migrants and the poor, a charge rejected by BJP and its ally JD(U).

Meanwhile, ruling party's allies said Modi led the fight against the virus well, by taking states into confidence and several lives were saved by the government's persistent efforts.

Initiating the debate on "COVID-19 pandemic in the country", Tharoor alleged "utter mismanagement" in dealing with the pandemic, saying the country witnessed a "fundamental breakdown" in government machinery in the past few months, instead of mature and proactive governance.

He said that instead of clearly-communicated protocol and comprehensive strategies on part of the government, the country witnessed a lack of clarity, readiness and preparedness to combat the virus.

Had the government listened to warning about the virus made by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and others, the situation would have surely been managed better, Tharoor said.

The ruling dispensation, Tharoor earlier said, continued to delay the implementation of a national strategy to stop the spread of the virus.
"This was the first failure of the government," he said.

The failure to adequately recognise the scale and complexity of the problem compounded their unwillingness to listen to the voices that warned well in advance of the consequences of ignoring the problem of such magnitude, he said.

When the number of cases were comparatively low in India there was still time for the government to execute comprehensive strategy to curb  it, he said. "It is moral responsibility of any government to take the nation into confidence and not leave them in dark."

He also said that due to the coronavirus-induced lockdown, the country's economy is in a bad shape now, and added arrangements were not made to fight with the virus.

If the migrant workers were allowed to go to their hometowns in the beginning, the current situation would have not arisen, he said.

The government should have taken the nation into confidence which it did not do as a result the nation "is losing confidence in you (government)", he said.

DMK's Dayanidhi Maran also slammed the government for its alleged failure in creating enough health infrastructure in the country during the lockdown.

He said when the first case was detected in February, the government allegedly did not take initiatives to fight the virus and instead "it was busy gathering people" for the US President Donald Trump's Gujarat visit.

"When the lockdown was announced, people got just four hours to prepare. There was no planning. The states were not informed, the way demonitisation was announced in 2016. There was chaos everywhere," he added.

In an apparent reference to the Tablighti Jamaat incident in Delhi where scores of people tested positive, Maran criticised the government for "blaming" Muslims for the initial spread of COVID-19 in the country.

Rebutting the criticism, BJP member Kirit Solanki highlighted various welfare schemes announced by the Modi government and said the poor and downtrodden were provided free foodgrains and cash incentives during the lockdown and afterwards.

Solanki said the country has so far tested five crore people for coronavirus of which 1.5 crore tests were conducted in the last two weeks.

The BJP member pointed out that 33 crore poor people were given Rs 31,235 crore through the direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) and the beneficiaries include farmers, women and senior citizens.

Without naming anyone, Solanki said a leader was tweeting on ways to deal with the virus, but he is not present in the House to debate on the issue.

A bill seeking to amend the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA), under which providing the Aadhar numbers of the office-bearers of any NGO will be mandatory for registration and public servants will be barred from receiving funds from abroad, was also introduced in the Lower House.

The Foreign Contribution Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2020, introduced in the Lok Sabha by Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai, also proposes to enable the Centre to allow an NGO or association to surrender its FCRA certificate.

Introducing the bill, Rai said, "There would be no discrimination. The permission which was given earlier to religious institutions for foreign contributions under the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 will continue. But these institutions should not deviate from their objective and not be a threat to the country's security."

The draft bill proposes that not more than 20 percent of the total foreign funds received could be spent on administrative expenses.

Presently, the limit is 50 percent.

Manish Tewari of the Congress objected to the bill and made a request to the government to relax the provisions of the FCRA. Saugata Roy of the Trinamool Congress (TMC) also opposed the bill, saying it is an attempt to stop foreign contributions.

"The idea should be to deregulate and not over-regulate foreign contributions," he said.

With inputs from PTI

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