Opposition to boycott Rajya Sabha until MPs’ suspension is revoked
Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad also demanded that the government introduce a bill mandating that private companies and even Food Corporation of India will not purchase farm produce below the minimum support priceUpdated: Sep 22, 2020, 14:33 IST
The Congress and a few other Opposition parties on Tuesday boycotted the proceedings of Rajya Sabha, demanding that the suspensions of eight of its members be revoked.
The government responded that it was not in favour of keeping the suspended MPs away from the House, but they must express regret over their “unruly conduct” in the House on Sunday, when two contentious farm bills were passed.
Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad also demanded that the government introduce a bill mandating that private companies and even Food Corporation of India (FCI) will not purchase farm produce below the minimum support price (MSP).
“The government should introduce another bill which ensures that private players do not purchase beneath the MSP. On this, farmers can move court. MSPs should be announced using the Swaminathan formula. The state corporations and FCI should not purchase below MSPs. Our colleagues who have been suspended—their suspension should be revoked. Till the time the government does not take it back, we will boycott the proceedings of the House,” Azad said.
Several Opposition members, including Samajwadi Party’s Ramgopal Yadav, Praful Patel and Keshav Rao, who spoke after Azad, also supported the demand to revoke the suspensions.
Azad, who is the Leader of the Opposition in the Upper House, said no one, whether from the ruling side or the Opposition, was happy with what happened in Rajya Sabha on Sunday. Two agricultural reform bills — the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 and the Farming Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 — were cleared by voice vote in Parliament on Sunday even as the Opposition protested and stormed the well of the House seeking that they be sent to a select committee.
The high-pitched protests were also the most aggressive in recent years and continued even after the House was adjourned at 1pm.
Aaam Aadmi Party’s Sanjay Singh, Derek O’Brien and Dola Sen (Trinamool Congress); Congress’ Rajeev Satav, Syed Nasir Hussain, and Ripun Borah; and KK Ragesh and Elamaram Kareem of the Communist Party of India (M) were suspended on Monday for seven days under Rule 256(2) for “gross disorderly conduct”.
Azad blamed time constraints in the House and said they often did not allow members to elucidate upon important issues. He said Lok Sabha could sit longer as proceedings began at 3pm, which provided the MPs with more time, while Rajya Sabha had to wind up early. “We fight for every minute like soldiers fight on borders,” Azad said.
He said the MPs had been feeling uncomfortable about several such issues for some time now, and Sunday’s proceedings were the “last straw that broke the camel’s back”. He said members were also upset that bills were not sent to select or standing committees when they should have.
“I don’t approve of someone breaking the microphone or standing on a table, but this had been pent up over a long time and came out like a storm,” said Azad.
Parliamentary affairs minister Prahlad Joshi said the time constraint was not a new phenomenon. Many leaders, Joshi said, had sought that the proceedings be concluded early. “Four hours were allocated and the discussion took place from 9am till 1pm,” Joshi said.
“The dispute was over the sense of the House. Sense of House does not mean numbers. Sense of House means majority of political parties. Their were 18 parties on one side and one party on the other,” Azad said.
He said that the House depends on coordination within the government, and between the Opposition and government. “But there should not be coordination between the chair and government,” he said.
“I do not know if the government had the numbers. But there could be no division on resolutions or amendments,” Azad said, referring to the passage of the farm bills.
He said parliamentarian Arun Jaitley had said a government becomes “illegitimate” if the Speaker does not allow division of votes. Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu retorted that Jaitley had also spoken of the “tyranny of the minority”.
Azad said government announced the MSPs on Monday, but gave no further information during discussion in the House, adding the cabinet meeting should have been held earlier.
“The government has put forward a new slogan—one nation, one market—in an advertisement. My request is don’t go towards one nation, one party,” he said.
Meanwhile, Naidu said the chair should not be dragged into the controversy.
“Don’t try to put the blame on the chair or the person in the chair,” he said, asserting deputy chairman Harivansh had shown restraint. “If some people think ‘my way or the highway’, I will not accept it,” he added.
Naidu said the members had a right to ask for a division and the deputy chairman had said “13 times” that he would allow one and asked members to go back to their seats, but they did not do so.
The Rajya Sabha chairman said that the eight suspended members had not only admitted to their unruly behaviour, they had even justified their actions. “Some people justify all this. I cannot justify it,” Naidu said.
Referring to statements by Opposition leaders calling the suspensions and the contentious passing of the farm bills “unprecedented”, he said there were several instances of bills being passed amid a lot of din in Parliament and that it was not the first time MPs were being suspended either. “What is unprecedented about this?” he asked, adding that passing bills amid a ruckus was not healthy and he was not happy about the suspensions either.
On Sunday, Opposition parties sat in Rajya Sabha for two hours after it was adjourned and drafted a no-confidence motion against Rajya Sabha deputy chairman Harivansh, which was rejected by Naidu on Monday. Naidu said it was non-admissible under the Constitution’s Article 90. The article deals with “vacation and resignation of, and removal from the office of the deputy chairman” of the Upper House of Parliament.
Harivansh met the suspended members, who staged an all-night sit-in on the lawns of Parliament, on Tuesday morning and offered the lawmakers tea and snacks. The lawmakers declined the refreshment and appeared unwilling to end their protest even as Harivansh said he will undertake a day-long fast over the “humiliating conduct against him”.
Naidu said that he had told the secretary general that the protesting members must be taken care of. The secretary general, however, pointed out that members could not use the precinct of Parliament House to hold any protest, dharna or religious ceremony, he said.
“I again appeal, if they [the suspended MPs] express regret for whatever has happened , the government is not very particular that they be kept out,” Joshi said.
Meanwhile, the eight protesting members ended their sit-in outside Parliament after Congress and other Opposition parties boycotted the proceedings.