Bill to repeal farm laws passed
It took three minutes in the Lok Sabha and 35 in the Rajya Sabha to pass a legislation repealing three contentious farm laws amid protests by opposition parties on Monday.
The bill now awaits the assent of President Ram Nath Kovind for the formal withdrawal of the three laws, whose repeal was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 19 after yearlong protests by farmer groups who opposed the pieces of legislation that were aimed at liberalising farm trade.
“During the Covid period, farmers worked hard to increase production and fulfil the needs of the nation. As we celebrate the 75th Year of Independence — ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’, the need of the hour is to take everyone together on the path of inclusive growth and development,” said the statement of objects and reasons of the repeal bill.
The legislation noted that “the operation of the aforesaid farm laws has been stayed” by the Supreme Court. The statement also mentioned that “even though only a group of farmers” were protesting, the government “tried hard to sensitise them” on the importance of the farm laws and explain the merits.
Opposition parties, who planned to use the opportunity to demand a law on guaranteed crop prices and corner the government on agricultural issues, will meet on Tuesday to decide a future course of action. Farm unions, who led a yearlong agitation against the three laws, welcomed the repeal but criticised the government for passing the Farm Laws Repeal Bill, 2021, without any discussion.
Protests by the Opposition erupted as soon as the Winter Session of Parliament began at 11am. By that time, government managers had indicated in the business advisory committee meeting of the respective Houses that the bill would be passed without debate, said people aware of the developments. They had argued in those closed-door meetings that repeal bills didn’t require a debate and a divisive discussion could be avoided when everyone wanted the laws to be repealed.
To be sure, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla said at least five times that he would allow the debate, but protesting opposition leaders who had trooped in the Well of the House didn’t stop protests. “Today, at the start of the Winter Session, when we took up the bill in Lok Sabha for repealing, why did Opposition create ruckus? What is Opposition’s intention behind delaying the repeal bill?” asked parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi.
In the Rajya Sabha, leader of the Opposition Mallikarjun Kharge spoke briefly.
“There would be elections in five states. And they (the ruling side) thought that after the recent bypoll results (where the Bharatiya Janata Party suffered some reverses) , what might happen in those state elections. So, they turned their attention to these bills,” he said. He also said that lawmakers in both Houses, non-governmental organisations and farmers maintained that the bills were not helpful for farmers, but the government didn’t listen.
Agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar hit back at Kharge. “The Congress in its manifesto had promised to bring these bills. Now they have a double standards. We brought the bill for farmers’ welfare. Since we couldn’t convince all farmers, the PM showed a historic magnanimity,” the minister said.
After the bill was passed, Tomar also pointed out that procurement under the minimum support price (MSP) regime had doubled since 2014, when Narendra Modi swept to power at the Centre. “Earlier only wheat and paddy came under the MSP. But now, under the leadership of PM Narendra Modi, MSP procurement also covers oilseeds, pulses and cotton,” he said.
Government functionaries gave out data to show that in 1998 and 2006, two bills were passed by the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha on the same day. Opposition leaders argued that in 22 cases, repeal bills were discussed and debated in the House before passage.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said the way the repeal bill was passed was “an insult to the farmers”. “We wanted to discuss MSP (issue), we wanted to discuss the Lakhimpur Kheri incident, we wanted to discuss the 700 farmers who died in this agitation and unfortunately that discussion has not been allowed,” Gandhi said, alleging that the laws were withdrawn for the upcoming assembly elections.
The reference was to the deaths of eight people in violence in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri last month. Ashish Mishra, son of Union minister of state for home Ajay Mishra ‘Teni’, is one of the accused in the case.
The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, were passed in September last year. Almost immediately, protests began in the grain bowl states of Punjab and Haryana and snowballed into a full-blown political uprising, spreading to several states in the course of a year, including Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
The three laws were aimed at opening up farm trade but farm unions said the legislation left them at the mercy of large corporations. During a nationally televised address on November 19, PM Modi said his government will withdraw the three laws. The decision came ahead of high-stakes elections in five states, including Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state, and Punjab, where farmers are an influential bloc.
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), a platform of over 40 farm unions, said the repeal was proof of success of its yearlong agitation. It vowed to continue the farmers’ movement until all their “rightful demands” were met.
“History has been made today. This is the first major victory of the farmers’ movement today, while other important demands are still pending,” a joint statement by farm unions, issued through the SKM, stated.
Ahead of the Parliament session, Tomar appealed to farmers to end their agitation. Key farm leaders responded by saying they would wait till December 4 for a response on a letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, enlisting their demands that are yet to be met.
Besides a statutory guarantee for MSP, the farmers want a parcel of land for a memorial to peasants who died during the yearlong protests and all criminal cases slapped against farmers during the course of their agitation to be withdrawn.
They have also sought changes to a proposed electricity bill to keep energy prices cheap for farmers and modifications to an anti-pollution law in force in the national capital region that includes provisions to penalise farmers burning paddy straw, the cause of the deadly winter smog in north India.