‘The legislative domain is with Parliament … judiciary can examine the constitutional validity of farm laws’

The second half of Parliament’s budget session starts today in the wake of over 100 successive days of protests around Delhi’s borders by farmers. In the last Parliament session, Revolutionary Socialist Party MP NK Premachandran served a notice for motion of privilege on Union agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar over the central farm laws. He explained his reasons to Swati Mathur:

Why did you move the notice for motion of privilege against the agriculture minister?

My notice of privilege motion is on two grounds. When farm bills were being considered by Parliament, opposition asked for them to be referred to a standing, select or joint committee, or to the public, to elicit their opinion. Government rejected these demands and passed the bills with their brute majority. Amendments moved by opposition MPs, which reflected the concerns of the farming community, and which are being raised now, were also unilaterally rejected. These included demands to write MSP into the laws and set up an alternate grievance redressal mechanism for farmers. Now the government has said outside Parliament it is ready to discuss the laws clause by clause and bring amendments. This is gross disrespect to the House.

Also, when the matter went to the Supreme Court, and it asked the government whether a committee may be constituted to look into the merits of the laws, the government agreed. Recently, this committee issued an advertisement inviting suggestions, comments and observations from the public for submitting to the SC to “protect the interest of Indian farmers”. I ask this: If the judiciary intervenes in the legislative process, what is the role of Parliament? The judiciary can examine the constitutional validity of laws and it can also discuss the legislative competence of Parliament. Here, it will do neither. It will examine the merits of the laws and whether they protect the interests of farmers. That is not the domain of the apex court. The legislative domain is with Parliament and this is, on the part of the government, an absolute contempt of the House and a clear case of privilege.

Indirectly, the agriculture minister implied that Parliament, which comprises elected representatives, is not competent to protect the interests of farmers. This is a very serious matter where the legislative authority of Parliament is being undermined and so I served the notice on him.

Government should let go of its ego, repeal the laws or begin fresh discussions on amendments. Instead, they are making the SC encroach on the authority of Parliament and calling farmers names.

Now the minister has said government is ready to put the laws in abeyance for a year and a half. Does that not help?

How can it be done? This is another blunder by the government. You can delay the implementation of a law by not drafting rules, but you cannot freeze a law which is in existence. SC has stayed implementation of the laws. But how can you freeze the law? There is no process in the Constitution or in the legislative process that allows it. SC can stay the operation of the law, which too they have not done. They have stayed its implementation. I cannot understand the difference and I feel they have also confused matters.

The PM said in Parliament that people have the option to implement these laws. Why is that not good enough for the opposition?

It was a clever and intelligent answer. Yes, people have the option of going to ‘mandis’ or to private markets for higher prices. In private markets, farmers will get attractive remunerative prices for the first few years and people will flock there. As a result, mandis will collapse automatically. Once corporate control solidifies, though, mandis will have been rendered irrelevant. It is true that there is no provision in the bill to dismantle agriculture markets. But they will disappear gradually.

Also, the government drastically amended an agriculture law in existence since 1965 through an ordinance. How can structural agricultural reforms be brought in through ordinance? What were the extraordinary circumstances that forced the government to promulgate an ordinance when the House was not in session? The intent of the bill is the first thing to be looked at. If that is not good, content will not be good either. If the bill had originated in Parliament, it would have gone to a standing committee or select committee and there would have been opposition to it.

The PM and President, in their respective addresses to Parliament, said the laws were passed after wider consultations. But there were no consultations before June 5, 2020, when the ordinance was promulgated. The farm laws replaced the ordinances in September, 2020. Even in the intervening months, there were no consultations and Parliament was not taken into confidence either.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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