Farm Laws repealed in 4 minutes without debate in Parliament

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It just took four minutes for the Lok Sabha on Monday to pass a bill that sought to repeal the three controversial farm legislations which saw farmers mobilise at the Delhi borders for over a year. It is shocking — but hardly a surprise — that the government refused to heed the Opposition’s demand for a discussion in the House on the subject that had been debated extensively on different platforms across the nation. This is reminiscent of the manner in which the controversial laws were rammed through in Parliament in September 2020 without due consideration, as demanded by the Opposition, leading to deep distrust about the reforms itself in the society, particularly among a section of the farmer community. In fact, the obstinacy of the government was a major reason why it failed to convince the protestors despite 11 rounds of talks and the intervention of the Supreme Court about crucial reforms.

The decision to repeal the Acts was announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Guru Purab. But a televised address to the nation is no substitute for a detailed statement and discussion in Parliament since these Acts had been passed by the House. Union ministers had taken to social media and hailed the PM’s climbdown as a great gesture in the national interest — what was against the national interest was never explained. So, what were the imperatives? Was the government’s failure merely a case of miscommunication? What has been the outcome of similar “reform” measures in the states? Should the Centre henceforth let the states decide their own agriculture reform paths as per the demands of local political economy rather than push centralised solutions on a sector rich in diverse cultivation practices and markets? Then, there is the continuing demand among farmers for making the minimum support price a legal right, which raises several fraught issues. It also seems even those who had opposed the farm laws agree that Indian agriculture is in a crisis and needs radical solutions. So what is the way forward? All these and much more — the tragedy in Lakhimpur Kheri where a central minister’s son was arrested on allegations that a SUV owned by him ran over a march killing five persons — needs vigorous debate in Parliament. By now the government should know that agriculture is a deeply contested territory and policy-making in the sector calls for conversations across fences. In fact, the farming community itself, including those in the forefront of protests, have, by their own admission, gone through a period of education and deep introspection about farm practices.

Prime Minister Modi is wont to call the Constitution a holy book and Parliament a temple. But his government has been found wanting in living up to the letter and spirit of that holy book and has frequently used its electoral majority to impose its will on Parliament by stomping out dissenting voices and ignoring custom and procedure. Debates are the lifeline of Parliament; their absence will diminish the institution, put a question mark on the next set of laws and deepen already hardening fault lines.

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