The govt’s rush to pass key farm bills and the Opposition’s conduct were wrong
On Sunday, the Rajya Sabha passed 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. This newspaper has supported the government’s efforts to bring about a new legislative and policy architecture for agriculture as a method to empower farmers. But as far as legislation is concerned, there is both content and process. And on Sunday, there is little doubt that the process was undermined, reflecting poorly on India’s parliamentary democracy.
The reforms are significant, affecting a range of stakeholders, particularly farmers. They have also generated a political backlash, with even partners in the ruling coalition such as the Shiromani Akali Dal resigning from the Cabinet on the issue. The Opposition was keen on sending the bills to a select committee. Ideally, this should be done — for the committee process provides an opportunity to examine legislation, refine it, and allows parliamentarians to speak up without being confined to party positions. But if the government was not willing to embark on that process, there should have been a discussion in the House where members got a chance to offer their perspectives and the government listened to feedback and made modifications accordingly. And along with this, there should have been a clear voting process — a division as it is called in parliamentary parlance — to get an accurate sense of the mood of the House.
Unfortunately, none of this was done. The discussion in the House was rushed — since the government wants to push through other legislations quickly, before the session is brought to an early end. And there was no division, but a voice vote — prompting genuine questions about whether the government had the numbers at all. So it was with one eye on the clock and another eye on the numbers that the government rushed through the process on Sunday — but this was wrong.
The Opposition was wrong too — in being disruptive, creating a din, tearing documents, and creating a difficult situation for the presiding officer, perhaps indicating that it too was not confident of the numbers. The responsibility for what happened on Sunday rests with both sides. The government’s victory in getting the bills passed will be tainted by the way it was done, and the Opposition’s response will dilute its legitimate right to protest.