Farm Reform Bills Rock Parliament, 8 MPs Suspended

Opposition members have sought to meet the President to request him not to give assent to the contentious bills.

On Sunday, the contentious agricultural reform bills were passed in Rajya Sabha with voice voting in the midst of chaos and commotion, as opposition members tore papers, broke microphones and staged a demonstration in the upper house. The very next day, eight members of opposition parties were suspended from the rest of the monsoon session.

These eight - which include Derek O'Brien (Trinamool Congress), Sanjay Singh (Aam Aadmi Party), Rajeev Satav (Congress) and KK Ragesh (CPM) - have refused to leave the Parliament and are currently protesting in the grounds.

What Happened On Sunday

The two ordinances - Farmers' and Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 - were brought up for discussion and voting in the upper house on Sunday morning.

Several opposition members demanded a division of votes from the deputy chairperson, which were however not granted, and both the ordinances were passed with voice voting.

What happened after that was complete chaos - opposing members tore away pages from the bills, broke their microphones, tried to snatch documents from the chairperson and even allegedly broke his microphone. The audio-telecast of Rajya Sabha TV was muted, and viewers could no longer hear what the MPs were saying.

Several lawmakers took to recording videos of the protests in the upper house, which were filled with chants of "Sharam Karo (Have some shame!)"

Despite this, the bills - that have caused massive protests by farmers, farmers' unions and activists - were passed with voice vote during the chaos.

Protest Continues

On Sunday night, TMC MP Derek O'Brien posted a 9-minute video, where he gave his testimony on what had transpired that day. O'Brien alleged that he, along with some other opposition members, was denied the right to demand a division of votes, which went against parliamentary traditions and thus led the commotion.

"Around 1pm on Sunday September 20, the government murdered parliamentary democracy," he wrote in the tweet.

The very next day, eight Rajya Sabha MPs were suspended, who then proceeded to hold a sit-down protest in the parliamentary grounds.

Opposition members allege that voice voting on such a strongly contested bill was wrong. Video of the deputy chairperson passing the bill shows him doing so in haste, where he does not even look up to see how many had voted for 'Aye' or 'No' in inaudible circumstances.

Furthermore, it is not quite clear whether the ruling party has the numbers to pass the bills, given how even allies of the Bharatiya Janata Party have shown their disapproval. Last week, Harsimrat Kaur Badal of the Shiromani Akali Dal - one of the BJP's oldest allies - resigned from the position of the Union Minister of Food and Processing Industry in Modi's Cabinet.

Following the ruckus, several opposition parties have sought time to meet President Ram Nath Kovind, to request him to not sign the bills.

The agricultural reform bills, which were introduced as ordinances in June, have been controversial right from the beginning. Farmers' unions and activists claim that the bills lead farmers and farmer producer organisations (FPOs) to deal directly with big corporates, which could be detrimental for the former without intervention of a body that could protect the farmers' interests.

Previously, the APMC mandi system provided a negotiation ground for farmers along with price floor support like the Minimum Support Price. Activists allege that the new bills create opportunities for big corporates to demolish the APMC system and eventually exploit farmers.

Speaking on this matter, Modi had taken to Twitter on Sunday to state that the MSP system will remain, but did not clarify why such a floor pricing system was not mentioned in any of the bills.

Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said in the parliament on Monday that the government "had clear majority in Rajya Sabha on farm bill" and stated that the conduct of the opposition leaders was "shameful" and "irresponsible".

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