Ahead of Budget session, 16 Opposition parties decide to boycott President's address to Parliament

NEW DELHI: Leader of Opposition and Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad on Wednesday asked the government to withdraw the three contentious farm bills without making it a prestige issue.

Declaring that disrespect to the national flag cannot be tolerated, he also condemned the violence at Red Fort during the farmers’ tractor rally on Republic Day.

Participating in the Motion of Thanks to the President’s Address in the Rajya Sabha, he suggested that Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself should make the announcement on repeal of the bills.

Modi was present in the House at the time.

Azad also made a case for restoration of statehood to Jammu and Kashmir and holding assembly elections, saying that people of the area were not happy and development work had come to halt.

In 2019, the erstwhile state was bifurcated into the union territories of Ladakh, and Jammu and Kashmir following the abrogation of Article 370.

Earlier in the day, five hours were added to the discussion on the president’s address to also allow the raising of issues related to farm bills.

The new farm laws have led to protests at border points of the national capital and several parts of the country.

“I urge the government to withdraw these three bills,” he said, and added that the government should set up a committee to find out the whereabouts of people “who have gone missing” during the farmers’ protest.

The senior Congress leader cited several examples, including one during his own party’s rule in 1988, of the government giving in to the demands of farmers.

Referring to the violence that broke out in Delhi during farmers tractor rally on January 26, the Congress leader said the entire opposition condemns the incident as “it is against democracy”.

“Disrespect to the national flag cannot be tolerated,” he said while demanding the strictest of actions against the culprits.

Highlighting the problems which farmers would face because of the new laws, Azad said government should see repealing of the legislations as an a “prestige issue”.

Describing farmers as “annadata”, the Congress veteran said there was no point in confronting them.

Instead, the government should focus on other important issues, including on revival of the economy.

Azad also raised the issue of registration of cases under stringent provisions against certain media persons and also his party colleague Shashi Tharoor.

“Shashi Tharoor was minister of state for external affairs. He has represented the country outside. How can he be an anti-national. Then we all are anti-nationals,” he said, and demanded withdrawal of sedation cases against them in the interest of democracy.

Asserting that the new farm laws were passed after extensive deliberations in Parliament, the BJP on Tuesday said in Rajya Sabha that doors are always open for farmers to resolve the issue amicably, and urged opposition parties not to make the farmers’ agitation another Shaheen Bagh.

Moving the Motion of Thanks to the President’s address in the upper house, BJP member Bhubaneswar Kalita said the government respects farmers.

He said the government has given new rights to farmers through these new farm laws and none of their rights or facilities have been taken away.

Attacking the opposition members, who were trying to disrupt the proceedings of the House, he said, “Let me remind them that the three farm laws have been passed by both the houses of Parliament after much deliberations.”

“The benefits of these three important farm laws have started reaching more than 10 crore people and small farmers. There has been no reduction in the rights and facilities of farmers. Through these agriculture reforms, the government has given new rights to farmers,” he said initiating the debate.

The motion was seconded by another BJP member Vijay Pal Singh Tomar.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi was in the House when the debate started.

The opposition members moved as many as 118 amendments to the Motion of Thanks to the President’s address.

Kalita said even after opposition members are raising the issue to disrupt the House, “we have utmost respect for our farmers”.

He said Agriculture minister and Railways minister have been holding discussion with farmers and many rounds of discussions have already taken place.

“The door is always open for farmers for discussion so that this issue of farm laws can be resolved amicably. The government is ready to discuss all issues concerning it, but my appeal to our friends, please do not make it another Shaheen Bagh,” he said.

Shaheen Bagh in the national capital was the the epicentre of the protests against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA).

The BJP member from Assam cited the example of the Citizenship amendment bill which was passed by Parliament after the BJP returned to power with a decisive majority.

“Now they have objections and they want to organise another Shaheen Bagh. The anti-CAA parties in Assam are forming new parties and let me remind you what Congress got in 2019 Lok Sabha elections by supporting CAA, the anti-CAA parties will lose in 2021 elections in Assam,” Kalita said.

“The BJP alliance will win and return to power in Assam,” he asserted.

He lauded the prime minister for his numerous visits to Assam, noting that Modi and central government officials have visited Assam and northeastern states 40 times during his two terms.

This is probably the first time that any prime minister has paid so much attention to the northeast region, he said.

He also noted that the government is committed to strengthen the underprivileged sections of society.

This government believes in 100 percent implementation of its promises, he said.

Kalita said the GST collection was picking up as the economy was on the path of recovery due to efforts taken by the government.

Vijay Pal Singh Tomar said the farm laws were passed after extensive deliberations, noting that there have been 12 expert committees in the past two decades on farm reforms.

He hit out at those criticising the farm laws, saying they are spreading misinformation.

The new laws will help small farmers and the agricultural sector, he said.

He also drew a comparison between the agriculture budgets during the UPA tenure and now.

He aid one year budget provision for agriculture has been more than five years of that in UPA.

He said the agriculture budget was Rs 1.21 lakh crore during 2009-2014 whereas the agriculture budget in 2019-20 was 1.51 lakh crore.

“The way the prime minister has taken steps in the agriculture sector, we are sure the sector will grow and help make India a USD 5 trillion economy,” he said.

He stressed on value addition in farming, saying diversification is required in the sector and that is possible only with the new farm laws.

Small and marginal farmers which comprise 86 per cent will benefit from new laws, he said.

He said post harvesting losses to farmers is said to be 15-22 per cent and a survey attributes losses at Rs 92,000 crore per annum.

Proper storage can save it, he said.

Tomar said middlemen were eating into the profits of farmers and new laws were intended to benefit farmers.

He pitched for diversification of agriculture and lauded Modi and the BJP government for recognising industrious farmers and conferring awards like Padmashri on them.

Tomar also stressed on ethanol production by farmers and said the demand was bound to increase following government’s decision to increase blending limit to 20 per cent by 2030.

On farm laws, he said some people were creating confusion that farmers will not get MSP whereas during the BJP regime it has risen sharply.

The children of farmers will become job providers after these laws and would not be required to work for petty sums, he said.

Those who moved amendments included Tiruchi Siva, Digvijay Singh and Deependra Singh Hooda.