Agriculture

By pushing farm Bills through, Modi government has put democracy at crossroads

KK Ragesh of CPI (M), who called for a division vote against the 3 farm Bills passed in Monsoon Session and was suspended from Rajya Sabha, explains how the legislations may pur farmers on the brink, add to corporate coffers and presents his side of what transpired within the House

 
By KK Ragesh
Published: Saturday 03 October 2020
A demonstration in Telangana to protest against the new farm-related legislations. Photo: Kirankumar Vissa
A demonstration in Telangana to protest against the new farm-related legislations. Photo: Kirankumar Vissa A demonstration in Telangana to protest against the new farm-related legislations. Photo: Kirankumar Vissa

The Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre is leading the common people into an eventual bankruptcy through a plethora of anti-people measures. The Centre pushes rhetoric of jingoistic nationalism and communal agenda, dubiously hiding the plight of toiling masses.

Such attempts to divert attention are on whenever people’s angst start emerging against the Centre’s misdeeds. Such gimmicks by the Narendra Modi government, however, are failing to get momentum after the undemocratic moves unleashed in Parliament to tide over protests of Opposition against the anti-farmer, pro-corporate ‘farm Bills’:

  • The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020,
  • Farmers (Empowerment & Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance
  • Farm Services Bill, 2020.

Days of survival

The world is in the grip of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19). Human and social lives of all walks have undergone severe devastation. The entire humanity is in an endless battle against the pandemic.

Policies to handhold people against such devastation is the need of the hour. But people remain terribly disillusioned under the Modi regime — not even a ray of hope from the government at the Centre.

Humiliation of people, destructive legislations and disturbing actions are being announced almost every day. The pandemic has brought all equations we built today to the dust; it has proved all accomplishments we boast of are as good as naught.

This also makes us realise that our future battle will be over food. What is the central government doing to those who are out there to feed us?

It is surprising to realise that the most recent episode of promulgation of Ordinances under the pretext of COVID-19 package was aimed at benefiting multinational corporations, which has kinship with the ruling party.

What the Centre is doing to farmers is simply havoc, through the Ordinances and Bills.

Freedom to loot

The three farm-related Bills as well as the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill are draconian legislations moved and passed by the Modi government in the Monsoon Session of Parliament. They are inter-connected.

The first two bestows the opportunity to corporate for free trade of agricultural commodities as well as entering into agreement with farmers without any government intervention. The second provides corporate bigwigs the opportunity to stock as much as agricultural commodities comes to their hand through procurement and contracts.

The government has created here unrestricted opportunity for corporates to procure commodities cheap, hoard them and create an artificial shortage; this would help them sell products at exorbitant prices.

The three farm-related legislations represent the Modi magic rhetoric, which would loot farmers and consumers alike. The Centre has legitimised hoarding and black-marketing through legislation.

The aim of the corporate, forever, is to maximise profits. This amply proves that the notion by the PM and his Cabinet colleagues that corporate would ensure fair price to farmers is absurd and wrong. 

The Centre put forward another argument that the new Bills would insulate the farmer from exploitation at Mandi Samitis created through agriculture produce and marketing legislations of various states.

Many allegations about the functioning of such markets are true: Issues such as foul plays by intermediaries and corruption by officials need to be addressed.

Farmers most often get relatively higher prices in such mandis in which big buyers also participate through registration and auctioning. The farmers would lose even the current opportunity for better prices, when such market yards become defunct due to the new laws.

The government’s argument that currently there are no opportunities for direct selling of agricultural products is untrue.

Currently only about 30 per cent of agricultural commodities are sold through the Mandi Samitis. The rest are sold by farmers directly. 

Farmers sell at the Mandi Samitis because they get better prices there. They will be deprived of even the current limited chances of obtaining better prices with the eventual elimination of Mandi Samitis. The farmers who will face the brunt of contract farming will also not be different.

It requires only common sense to understand that farmers would be the losers when the corporate bigwigs come to negotiate with them for direct procurement. Farmers, in almost all cases, can’t negotiate better prices; their aim is to sell the product soon after harvest as they:

  • Don’t have storage facility
  • Have to invest for the next season
  • Have to repay past loans

Knowing such realities, if the Prime Minister says that the corporate would offer the rate demanded by It, that can be taken only with a pinch of salt.

It is due to the above realities, the Opposition and the nation came forward to support the strong stand taken by the Left and other opposition parties against the Bills in Parliament.

Such protests against the Bills exemplify the ways through which the communal agenda can be offended with class struggles. Farmers’ movements have continuously been on the offensive against the draconian enactments.

The All India Kissan Sabha and the Kissan Coordination Committee, comprising more than 200 farmers’ organisations, have called for pan-India agitations. Punjab and Haryana, two prominent farming states, have witnessed strong protests against the Bills.

Struggle inside Parliament

The Left parties submitted a statutory resolution, motion to refer the Bills to Select Committee and 12 amendments. The clause for ensuring minimum support price (MSP) for agriculture commodities was the most important among the amendments.

The amendments included clauses that would bind the central government to guarantee MSPs for agricultural commodities; these would be calculated through the ‘cost-plus-50 per cent’ formula recommended by the MS Swaminathan Commission.

There was also a clause to prosecute middlemen or organisations who procure agricultural produces below MSP under criminal laws besides civil lawsuits.

Issues related to calculation, declaration and guaranteeing of MSP to farmers were the major considerations. But the PM and all those who spoke in favour of the Bills tried to misinform the public about the stand of the Left parties.

The Centre raised the MSP of wheat as gimmick and eyewash. What it tried to hide amid the sudden decision was the fact that most of the farmers were not benefiting from the MSP declared by the Centre from time to time.

Duping our farmers

The Centre declared MSPs for some 23 agricultural commodities. Currently, MSP is not calculated by the formula recommended by the Swaminathan Commission. At times they benefit only a miniscule number.

Merely declaring MSPs will not ensure benefits for farmers. Procurement as per MSP should be done by the government to benefit them.

It will be fair if the PM can explain whether the provision to ensure MSP to farmers in the event individuals or private companies procure agricultural commodities directly from farmers, is included in any of the Bills presented.

Despite the declaration of MSPs, in the absence of public procurement, farmers are not receiving the declared MSP on a vast majority of the 23 crops. MSP is paid mainly for crops such as paddy and wheat. That too, in the absence of adequate public procurement, comes to about 35 per cent.

According to a report by the NITI Aayog, the majority of farmers in Gujarat were not even aware of the existence of MSPs. The situation in Madhya Pradesh is not different.

In effect, what currently exists is the Centre’s declaration for MSP for 23 crops on paper and the implementation of MSP for only two or three crops through government procurement.

The Centre should expand the current system and ensure fair price to farmers by procuring each and every commodity at declared MSP. Instead, it has passed on the responsibility to corporates through the Farm Bills; that too without making any provision to guarantee at least the MSP on private procurement and also while entering a contractual agreement with farmers.

It is to be noted that The Food Corporation of India (FCI) was formed to procure agricultural products at MSPs and distribute them to citizens at concessional rates. Now the FCI warehouses are being handed over to Reliance Industries.

The justification of the government is that the FCI has incurred a liability of Rs 60,000 crores. But the Centre is silent about the Rs 70,000 crore subsidy arrears payable to FCI. One can easily imagine the future of the FCI on the implementation of the Bills.

Inside the House 

The government promulgates Ordinance under Article 123 of the Constitution. According to Sub-clause (2) a of the article, members are entitled the right to move statutory resolutions against an Ordinance; hence it is a constitutional mandate.

The precedent followed by Parliament regarding this is the presentation of the statutory resolution first, followed by presentation of the Bill and voting on the statutory resolution upon completion of the discussion. 

But the government put forward the suggestion of completing the minister’s reply on the discussion and the proceedings to pass the Bills in a hurry. The Opposition started to raise voice when the government rejected the suggestion of extending the proceeding of the Bills to the next day.

The Chair amid all this announced a voice vote on statutory resolution and declared it negated. He refused to consider the repeated demand for a division vote raised by members on the statutory resolution.  Such an arbitrary decision by the Chair was forcing the members to tear off the copy of the draconian laws in the House.

The honourable Deputy Chairman, in his version of things aired through media, quips that “The amendment moved by CPI(M) MP KK Ragesh was negated by voice vote at 1.07 pm on September 20, 2020 as he was in the Well of the House and not on his seat in the Gallery at that point of time.”

But I was nowhere in the Well, going by Rajya Sabha TV footage captured at 1.07 pm. It is the precedent that the division vote is demanded by the member usually soon after the voice vote. And at around 1.08 PM, I promptly raised my demand for a division vote soon after the Chair’s announcement that the statutory resolution and motion for amendments were negated in voice vote.

It means I have amply followed the rules of the House. The portion of RS TV footage that the Chair has referred, accusing I was not on my seat, was of after 1.07 PM, in which he claims to be calling me.

Even the motions to refer the Bill to the Select Committee were rejected without admitting the demand for division votes by members in the most undemocratic manner. In RS TV footage, my voice can be heard thrice soon after the voice vote, sometime after 1.08 pm, demanding a division vote on the motion to refer the Bill to the Select Committee, raised from my seat.

What is the justification of the Chair’s refusal to admit my demand? When my name was referred on an amendment on Clause 2, the same video visuals reveal that I demand for division at 1.11 pm and the same was neglected.  

The Deputy Chairman’s argument that “a demand for division and equally important that there should be order in the house” transmit nothing but a fresh alibi to desperately raise himself as the saviour of democracy in the House.

Unfortunately, his efforts this time become inherently week as the facts revealed through RS TV footages differ with his tall claims. Even if the order of House is disrupted, it is the duty of the Chair to ensure it (Rule 259) and there are several accepted ways to do it, including adjourning the House (Rule 257) and convening it after some time.

Moreover, the Chair’s argument that members should demand for a division from the seat is ridiculous, considering the current seating arrangements. How is it possible when members have taken part in the session by sitting even at the Lok Sabha chamber in accordance with the social-distancing norms enforced due to the pandemic?

Yet again, The RS TV footages show that there were many members raising demand for division vote by sitting in their seats. Once a motion is presented in the House, any member who is present could demand for division vote it.

Why did the Chair insist that division vote is admissible only when the mover of the motion in his seat demands for it? According to Rules, the vote should be conducted even if a single member of the House demands for it.

No matter if the Chair resurfaces with newer versions of his ‘valiant efforts to save democracy’, only the truth would prevail. When it was realised that protests against the Bills were in the offing even from allies of the ruling front, the Deputy Chairman decided to hack all democratic traditions and precedents followed by Parliament to ensure passing of the Bills to prove the loyalty to the ruling dispensation.

The anti-farmer Bills are out there and the people are judging the intentions of the section of polity that has hurriedly rolled them out. The Narenda Modi government’s anti-farmer and pro-corporate stand is clearer than ever now. 

Farmers’ agitations are intensifying all over India. The rays of hope at this juncture is the alliance of 14 Opposition parties, which has decided to oppose the Bills and came forward to hold collective protest in support of the farmers.

Farmers’ distress is the nation’s distress and realisation of this across the political lines would likely to emerge more strongly as a force to reckon with in the days to come.

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