Short-Circuiting Parliament
India Today|October 05, 2020
Short-Circuiting Parliament
On September 20, Parliament passed two contentious farm bills—Farmers’ Produce Trade & Commerce (Prom­otion & Facilitation) Bill and the Farmers’ (Empowerment & Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance & Farm Services Bill.
Kaushik Deka
The Rajya Sabha cleared both by voice vote; the Lok Sabha had passed them three days earlier. While farmers and Opposition parties protested the ‘anti­farmer’ provisions in the bills, the unseemly haste on display in rush­ ing the bills through Parliament, without further reference, discussion or debate, have raised unsettling questions on this government’s commitment to upholding parliamentary democracy.

The business advisory committee of the Rajya Sabha had set aside four hours to debate and pass the bills. Besides seven amendments to the bills, including one to send them to a select committee, the opposition leaders had also moved two statutory resolutions to get the bills dis­ approved. The debate continued beyond 1 pm, when the House was scheduled to be adjourned in keeping with Covid­19 protocol. Opposition leaders demanded the House be adjourned as per schedule and the bills taken up the next day, but the government insisted on continuing the proceedings. “When the House has to extend its sitting beyond the scheduled time, the sense of the House is taken by the chairperson,” says P.D.T. Achary, for­mer secretary general of the Lok Sabha. “If there is no consensus on an extended sitting, the chair normally adjourns the House for the next day.”

The government, in its defence, cites a technicality. “There is no rule,” says a close associate of deputy chairman Hari­vansh, “that once the bills are moved for debate, voting can be left halfway.” Angry opposition leaders thronged the well of the house, tore up the rule­book, broke mikes and even manhandled a marshal, following which the House was adjourned. When the House met again, the chaos continued and the bills were passed by voice vote.

Eight members were suspended for a week. In protest, Congress and other parties boycotted the House. Congress MP K.C. Venugopal alleged that BJP MP Bhupender Yadav had whispered some­ thing in Harivansh’s ear, after which the bills were rushed through. Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien said that Rajya Sabha TV’s telecast of the episode was censored so that people could not see how the bills were rammed through.

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October 05, 2020