Opposition members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution say they were not consulted before the adoption of a report calling for the implementation of the Essential Commodities Amendment (ECA) Act. Protesting farm unions calling for the repeal of the law have slammed parties who were part of the committee for “betraying farmers”.
The committee is chaired by Trinamool Congress (TMC) MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay and includes members of the Congress, Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), Samajwadi Party, Nationalist Congress Party and Shiv Sena, all of whom have previously called for the repeal of three farm laws, including the ECA Act.
However, the report adopted by the committee says the law “will become a catalyst for unlocking vast untapped resources in the agriculture sector” and recommends that the government implements the law “in letter and spirit, and without let or hindrances”. The report, on Price Rise of Essential Commodities, was submitted to the Lok Sabha on Friday.
Mr. Bandyopadhyay was not present for the final meeting of the committee on Thursday, March 18, when the report was adopted. Instead, that last meeting was chaired by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MP Ajay Misra.
“This is the BJP’s cheap and dirty tricks department in action,” tweeted TMC MP Derek O’Brien. “Con job was done when Chairman of Parliament Committee was not at meeting,” he said, adding that the party’s position against the laws was well-documented.
Congress MP Saptagiri Ulaka says he was not present at the meeting either, although his name is on the list of attendees in the minutes appended to the report. “The 18th meeting was called at a very short notice. I got a call at around 9 p.m. [on 17th] informing about it. The draft report, running into 100 pages, also landed around that time. I couldn’t attend the 18th meeting because I had to be in the Lok Sabha for the demand for grants discussion,” he told The Hindu.
He has written to Lok Sabha speaker Om Birla, disassociating himself from the report. Fellow Congress MP Rajmohan Unnithan also missed the meeting on March 18 as he was in his constituency in Kerala in the run-up to State polls. He also wrote a similar letter to Mr. Birla, pointing out that the committee had held meetings on the subject since December 2019, for a cumulative time of less than five hours, and had failed to seek oral evidence from any farmers group or independent expert before reaching its conclusions.
“I completely dissociate myself with this recommendation, and record my dissent to the Report, in line with the stand expressed by the Indian National Congress, in both Houses of the Parliament and in various press conferences and public meetings, where we have opposed tooth and nail the implementation of the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020,” he wrote.
“It is unprecedented that a report is adopted in the absence of the Chairman. It has never happened in my 17 years as an MP,” said Jairam Ramesh, who is the Congress’ chief whip in the Rajya Sabha.
AAP MP Bhagwant Mann was present at the meeting on March 18, but told The Hindu that his opposition was not taken into account. “I have opposed the Bill in the Lok Sabha itself, why would I not oppose it in the committee? But I am only one among 20-odd members. Why did the others not oppose the report?” he asked.
The report provoked sharp criticism from protesting farm unions. “It is entirely disgraceful that many parties which have been claiming support to farmers agitation for repeal of three farm laws have voted for the implementation of the ECAA. This exposes a wider consensus amongst these parties on these laws,” said a statement from the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM).
“The TMC which claims to be opposed to the three Anti-Farmer Acts and also passed a resolution in the West Bengal Assembly must explain how a Committee headed by its leader has given a recommendation betraying the farmers,” said the All India Kisan Sabha, which is affiliated to the Communist Party of India, adding that the Congress and other parties on the Committee also have much to answer for.
The implementation of the three laws was suspended by the Supreme Court two months ago. The court-appointed committee examining the issue is likely to submit its report in the next few days.
Farm unions will mark the four month anniversary of their protest with a nationwide strike on March 26, supported by trade unions and some transporters and traders groups as well. At a meeting on Saturday, the SKM decided that all services except emergency services will be inactive from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., with plans to block road and rail transport as well. The bandh will also take place inside Delhi, it said, marking the first time that protest action is planned within the national capital since the tractor parade on Republic Day.