The contentious farm bills, already passed in the Lok Sabha, created a furore when they were taken up for discussion in the Rajya Sabha on Sunday (September 20) with the Opposition led by the Congress calling them an “attack on the soul of farmers” and refusing to give their consent to the “death of the farmers.”
While two of the three farm bills – The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill – were taken up for discussion in the Rajya Sabha on Sunday, the Opposition alleged that the legislations will end the minimum support price (MSP) of produce guaranteed by the government, and benefit corporates instead.
“Congress party rejects this bill… We will not sign on this death warrant of farmers… Farmers don’t want this benefit that you claim are for them, then why are you trying to force-feed them,” Prathap Singh Bajwa, the Congress MP from Punjab said.
“Don’t think that the farmers of Punjab are weak” said Shiromani Akali Dal’s MP Naresh Gujral. The party had pulled out its only minister – Harsimrat Kaur Badal – from the Union Cabinet in protest against the passage of the bills in Lok Sabha last week.
KK Ragesh (CPI-M), Derek OBrien (TMC), Trichi Siva (DMK) and KC Venugopal (Congress) moved resolutions for sending the two bills to a select committee of the House for consideration before they are taken up for passage.
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Bajwa, who initiated the discussion on the bills said they were against landowners across the country, especially those of Punjab, Haryana, and western Uttar Pradesh. With agriculture being a state subject, he said the bills are against the federal cooperative spirit. “We do not want any tinkering in APMC and the minimum support price ( MSP),” he said and wondered what was the need to bring these bills during COVID-19.
Bajwa said farmers are on streets to protest against these two bills. “Those whom you want to benefit are on the streets”.
“Slowly, the government will come out of this and then Ambani, Adani and big corporate houses will enter (market),” he alleged. The Congress leader said the two bills are against the economic interest of Punjab, which has contributed a lot in making India self-sufficient in foodgrain production.
Defending the two Bills, Bhupender Yadav of the BJP charged that the Congress was doing politics over this issue and misleading farmers. He asked the Congress why the farmers’ income did not increase in the last 60-70 years even as the country become self-sufficient in farm production.
Yadav asserted that the two bills were the biggest agriculture reforms in the country and will give justice to farmers by increasing their income.
He rued that the food processing level is still very low in India and said the new age agriculture bills will boost processing, marketing, and exports of farm produces. Yadav said a report of the working group of agriculture production in 2010 suggested similar reforms. “Today, you (Congress) is doing politics. You are doing injustice with farmers because of politics,” he said.
However, he said the country and farmers are understanding the “politics” of the Congress. Farmers are a vote bank for the Congress, he said.
He highlighted various schemes and programmes launched by the prime minister in the last six years for the growth of the agriculture and allied sectors while noting that the budget for the agriculture sector has been enhanced. Yadav said the government will continue to purchase crops at the minimum support price (MSP), which will prove the “falsehood” spread by the Congress.
“Opposition should stop doing politics and also misleading farmers,” he said. Yadav also said the contract farming already exists in many states including Punjab and Haryana. “We are not taking away the land of farmers,” he said and added that the two bills are only meant to harness the huge potential of the agriculture sector.
TMC leader Derek OBrien demanded that the Bills should be sent to a select committee. “These bills need to be debated in Parliament. You have the numbers to have your way and we have the right to have our say and to keep you on track of Parliamentary democracy. This is very very dangerous trend we are following. The select committee is not a hand break…it is there to contribute. I am going to move select committee,” he said.
The TMC leader said the states have not been consulted on these Bills and questioned the government’s “tall promises” and its credibility.
“The prime minister said the opposition is trying to mislead the farmers. Let us see what credibility you have to make these speeches. You promised to double farmers’ income by 2022. At current rate, the farmer incomes would not double till 2028. I can also give big talk,” he said.
“You gave a big lecture on demonetisation. But, what has happened? After 50 minutes of announcing notebandi (demonetisation), Mamata Banerjee said withdraw this draconian decision. We told you but you did not listen,” he added. Noting that the government promised two crore jobs every year, he said: “Now you have the highest unemployment. Your credibility is low to make promises.”
Samajwadi Party’s Ram Gopal Yadav said there seems to be some compulsion that the ruling party does not want to discuss the bills and is in a hurry to pass them. He asked how farmers would find corporations to sell their produce. “It appears that this bill has not been drafted by you. A son of a farmer cannot draft such a bill. When you go back to your native place, the youth would ask you what were you doing when our death warrants were being issued in Parliament,” he asked.
The government, claims the bills will free-market restrictions and facilitate the barrier-free sale of produce at competitive prices, for farmers.
(With inputs from agencies)