President Ram Nath Kovind on Friday said the violence on Republic Day during a farmer protest was unfortunate, and that the protestors had insulted the tricolour by storming into the Red Fort and hoisting a religious flag next to it. The president was speaking on the first day of the Budget session of Parliament.
“The government respects freedom of expression and protests,” Kovind said as the proceedings began with his speech. “But what happened with the tricolour on Republic Day was very unfortunate. We need to respect law and order.”
For over two months, tens of thousands of farmers have been camped on the outskirts of Delhi to demand the withdrawal of the three new farm laws. On Tuesday, a tractor parade of farmers on Republic Day turned into chaos when some farmers diverged from agreed routes. At least one protestor was killed and over 300 police officers were injured in the violence.
Some protestors broke through barricades and poured into the city, clashing with a police force that tried to push them back with tear gas and a baton charge. A section of the farmers entered the Red Fort complex and used an empty flag post to hoist a religious flag.
In his speech in Parliament, Kovind disapproved the farmers’ actions. He said the Constitution of India gives citizens the right to express themselves. But it also teaches us that law and rule should be followed, he said, according to PTI.
The president then spoke about the benefits of the new laws. He claimed that more than 10 crore farmers have benefited from the legislations in the seven months since it was passed.
“The government is making record purchases on the minimum support price, and is also coming up with more procurement centres,” he added. “The government has decided to give MSP according to Swaminathan recommendation.”
At the heart of the farmers’ protests are fears that the government’s moves to introduce market reforms will leave them at the mercy of corporations. They say the new legislation is not clear on whether the government will continue to the minimum guarantee prices for certain essential crops. While the government has said it is willing to pledge the guaranteed prices will continue, the farmers are skeptical.
Kovind said the Centre was working constantly to remove misconceptions related to the farm laws. “My government would like to clarify that the rights and facilities that were available before the formation of the three farm laws have not been cut short, in fact with these new agricultural reforms the government has provided new facilities and rights to farmers,” he added.
The president said small and marginal farmers were the government’s priority. “To support such farmers in their small expenses, around Rs 1,13,000 crore have been transferred directly to their accounts, under PM-Kisan Samman Nidhi,” he added.
Kovind said the laws were passed after “extensive deliberations”, and that many political parties have supported the reforms enacted by the Narendra Modi government. “The laws currently stayed by Supreme Court, government will respect that,” he added.
Notably, 16 Opposition parties, including the Congress, were absent when Kovind made these statements, as they decided to boycott the president’s address in solidarity with the farmers. In a joint statement, the parties said Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party government have remained “arrogant, adamant and undemocratic” in their response to the farmers’ demand of repealing the agricultural laws.
On the coronavirus pandemic
Kovind said the Budget Session of Parliament was being held at a challenging time of the coronavirus pandemic. “But no matter how big the challenge is, we will not stop, India will not stop,” he added. “Whenever India is united, it has achieved impossible goals.”
In his speech, the president also paid tribute to those legislators who lost their lives during the pandemic. “We have lost many countrymen, including ex-President Pranab Mukherjee, 6 MPs, says President Kovind,” he said.
The president said the joint session of Parliament amid the pandemic was essential. “It’s a new year and a new decade and we’re also entering into the 75th year of independence,” he added. “Today all MPs are present here with message and trust that however tough be the challenge neither we nor India will stop.”
Kovind praised the government, saying that the timely decisions made by the Centre saved millions of lives. “Today, there is a rapid decline in the number of new cases of coronavirus and there is a significant increase in the number of recoveries,” he added. “Besides announcing a record economic package for reviving the economy, my government took care to ensure that no poor person went hungry.”
The president said it was a matter of immense pride that India is conducting the world’s largest vaccination programme. “Both the vaccines rolled out under this programme are produced indigenously,” he added.“By making lakhs of corona vaccine doses available to several countries India has fulfilled its obligation towards humanity in these times of difficulty.”