The two bills — Farmer’s Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 — will now be sent to the President for his assent, setting the stage for a prolonged political confrontation which looks set to spill over to the streets in the northern states.
Besides the known opponents, the bill was opposed by BJP’s estranged ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal, TRS and BJD which, in a rare instance, decided to vote “no”.
The bill, however, was backed by AIADMK and YRSCP, as well as smaller parties from the north-east and could have passed the numbers test if there had been one. The government’s task would have been helped by the depleted numbers on the opposition benches with many members staying away because of Covid-19, and the tactical ambiguity of parties like BSP, NCP and Shiv Sena.
The three parties expressed reservations about certain provisions of the bills but without displaying the vehemence which marked the response of Congress, TMC, DMK, AAP, SAD and the Left. In fact, opposition floor managers were reconciled to the prospect of the three staying away from a vote.
In the event, however, no voting could take place with the opposition demanding that the bills be sent to the select committee of the Rajya Sabha for a detailed scrutiny and the headcount be deferred. With the House plunging into utter bedlam as members of Congress, Trinamool and AAP stormed the well of the House and moved towards the podium to force deputy chairman Harivansh to go ahead with voting, the House had to be adjourned.
The two bills were declared passed by voice vote as the opponents persisted with protests after the resumption.
While the bills — aimed at liberalising farm trade by ending the monopoly of mandis and loosening the grip of “arhatiyas” or middlemen over trade in agricultural commodities — are set to become law, the government will find itself dealing with protests outside Parliament. While Congress is set to step up its protest in Punjab, Haryana and in the immediate vicinity of the national capital, several farm organisations have called for a protest beginning with a dharna on September 25.
The government was not flinching from a fight either. It has already launched a full-scale counter-offensive, dubbing Congress and other parties opposing the bills as proxies of middlemen while denying the opposition’s charge that the soon-to-be-enacted laws will spell the end of the minimum support price scheme.
Responding to the concerns of the opposition, agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar made it clear that these legislations will in no way impact crop procurement through the MSP mechanism. “Mandis will not stop functioning and trading will continue as before,” he said. The minister also said that under contract farming, the farmer will have full power to fix a sale price of his choice and that he will receive full payment within three days.
Congress and other opposition parties slammed the government for the “anti-farmer” measure. Congress MP Partap Singh Bajwa said these would serve as a “death warrant” for farmers. Referring to protests by farmers in some states, Bajwa said, “Those whom you want to benefit are on the streets.” He said the two bills were against the economic interest of Punjab, which has contributed a lot in making India self-sufficient in foodgrain production.
SAD MP Naresh Gujral warned BJP against taking farmers’ protests lightly. “Don’t think that the farmers of Punjab are weak, all Punjabis are the children of our Gurus and we have learned it from them to sacrifice and stand up against oppression,” he said.
K K Ragesh (CPI), Derek O’Brien (TMC), Tiruchi Siva (DMK) and K C Venugopal (Congress) moved resolutions for sending the bills to a select committee of the House for consideration.
Former PM H D Deve Gowda, who took oath as a JD(S) member in the Upper House on Sunday, cited how he had always been a firm supporter of poor farmers and suggested forming a permanent commission to advise the government on MSP and other issues.
Defending the two bills, Bhupendra Yadav of BJP asked Congress why farmers’ income did not increase in the last 60-70 years even as the country became self-sufficient in farm production. “These two important bills are the biggest agriculture reforms in the country and will give justice to farmers by increasing their income,” Yadav said. He said a report of a working group on agriculture production in 2010 suggested similar reforms against monopoly institutions.