President Ram Nath Kovind on Sunday gave his approval to three contentious farm bills, even as protests by opposition and farmer groups continued.
Parliament had recently passed the Farmer's Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, amid massive uproar from opposition parties. The bills were awaiting presidential assent.
Soon after the President's assent to the bills, the Maharashtra government announced that it would not implement the "anti-farmers" law in the state. "The Bills passed by Parliament are anti-farmers. So we're opposing it. Maha Vikas Aghadi will also oppose it and not implement it in Maharashtra. Shiv Sena is also with us. We'll sit together and form a strategy," Mahrashtra revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat said.
Shiromani Akali Dal, who formally broke ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA a day ago, announced a 'Kisan March' on October 1. "Kisan March will begin on October 1 from the three Takhts and go to Mohali. We will give a memorandum to the Governor and the President that these Ordinances should not be given assent and the Centre should take these back," party president Sukhbir Singh Badal said minutes before the president's approval came.
Later, he said it is sad to see that president failed to pay heed to farmers' cries. "Extremely sad that @rashtrapatibhvn refused to heed farmers & Punjabis’ cries & has signed #FarmBills and J&K bill excluding #Punjabi as official language. Hopes that President will act as nation’s conscience & return Bills to Parliament dashed. Dark day for democracy & farmers," Badal tweeted.
Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh termed the move as "unfortunate and distressing". He said that his government is exploring all options, including possible amendments to the state laws, to protect the interests of the farmers.
Singh said that his government was already in consultation with legal and agricultural experts, and all those impacted by the central government's "calamitous" legislations, will decide on the future course of action.
Kovind's nod to the farm bills comes days after Opposition parties met him and requested him to withhold his approval to the Centre's contentious farm bills. They had also boycotted Parliament in protest against the way the Centre passed the bills.
President gives his assent to the three #FarmBills :
▪️Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020
▪️Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020
▪️Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020 pic.twitter.com/PmjG4jNopC— All India Radio News (@airnewsalerts) September 27, 2020
Congress MP and Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad said that the bills had been passed in an unconstitutional manner. "There was no division of votes, no voice voting," he said. "Constitutional procedures were flouted in the temple of democracy."
The members of Opposition parties protested against the bills and called it a "murder of democracy".
Farmers under the banner of the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee have also been protesting on the rail track near Devidaspura village in Amritsar since September 24. Sitting on the rail track, the bare-chested protesters shouted slogans against the BJP-led central government on Saturday and demanded that the farm bills be withdrawn.
The committee had announced on Friday to extend its three-day 'rail roko' agitation from September 26 till September 29. The 'rail roko' agitation had started on Thursday, forcing the railway authorities to suspend the operation of special passenger trains in the state.
Farmers have expressed apprehension that the Centre's farm reforms would pave the way for dismantling of the minimum support price system and they would be at the "mercy" of big corporates. The farmers said they would continue their fight till the three farm bills were revoked.
The Centre, however, defended the passage of the farm bills and accused the opposition parties including Congress of doing politics. Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad assured farmers that they will not have to sell their produce at less than MSP.
He rejected all the protests, saying they were all being sponsored by those who will be hit, the Congress and the Opposition. "But our commitment to farmers remains, and once people realise the reality, the Opposition will be exposed," the Union minister said.