Three Congress MPs on Saturday distanced themselves from a Parliamentary Standing Committee report calling for the implementation of the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, PTI reported. This is one of the laws against which farmers have been protesting on the outskirts of New Delhi for over 100 days.
On March 18, the report of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Food, Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution was adopted. It asked the government to implement the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, in “letter and spirit”. Bharatiya Janata Party MP Ajay Misra Teni, who chaired the last meeting, had claimed that the report was adopted with consensus of all members and tabled in the Parliament on Friday.
Three Congress MPs in the panel – Saptagiri Sankar Ulaka, Rajmohan Unnithan and V Vaithilingam –have separately written to Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla. They have alleged that the report was adopted against norms and conventions.
The committee is chaired by Trinamool Congress MP Sudip Bandyopadhyay and includes members of the Congress, Aam Aadmi Party, Samajwadi Party, Nationalist Congress Party and Shiv Sena. All of them have protested against the agricultural laws, including the ECA Act, introduced by the Narendra Modi government in September. The TMC said the report was pushed in the absence of Bandyopadhyay, who is currently busy with the West Bengal Assembly elections.
In his letter, Ulaka urged Birla to look into the matter and give him an opportunity to record his dissent officially. “I completely dissociate myself with this recommendation, and record my dissent to the report, in line with the stand expressed by the Congress, in both Houses of Parliament and in various press conferences and public meetings, where we have opposed [the law] tooth and nail,” he wrote.
Ulaka said that he was not present when the report was adopted at the meeting, called in a short notice of merely 15 hours. “It is highly irregular that such an important report was circulated at a very short notice, and without recording any dissenting opinion, was tabled in Parliament,” he added. “It is not only misleading the nation, but also against the norms and conventions of the functioning and the democratic spirit of the Parliamentary Standing Committee.”
According to The Indian Express, the report mentions Ulaka’s name in the list of members who attended the committee meeting on March 18.
Unnithan and Vaithilingam have also written similar letters to the Lok Sabha Speaker. They said the subject was selected by the committee in 2019-’20 for examination before the three farm ordinances and laws were passed. The panel, they said, spent a cumulative time of 4 hours 45 minutes on it.
They alleged that the committee did not seek oral evidence from a single farmers group or any independent expert before finalising the report.
Senior Congress leader Jairam Ramesh shared Ualaka’s letter on Twitter. “MPs of the Congress party DID NOT ask for implementation of the Essential Commodities Act,” Ramesh said. “The Standing Committee Report is a misrepresentation.”
Ramesh, who is the chief Congress whip in Rajya Sabha, told PTI, “It is unprecedented that the report is adopted in the absence of the chairman. In 17 years I have been an MP, this has never happened.”
Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien also criticised the report. “This is the BJP cheap and dirty tricks department in action,” he tweeted. “Con job was done when Chairman of Parliament Committee was not at meeting. AITC position on Farm Laws and Essential Commodities Act well documented. Withdraw draconian laws.”
Farm law protests
Thousands of farmers have camped outside Delhi since December, demanding Prime Minister Narendra Modi repeal the three laws that open up the country’s agriculture markets to private companies. Farmers fear the policies will make them vulnerable to corporate exploitation and would dismantle the minimum support price regime.
The farmers have hunkered down with supplies that they say will last them for months, and have resolved to not leave until their demands are met. Several rounds of talks between the government and farm leaders took place, but none of them could manage to end the deadlock. In January, the Supreme Court had suspended the implementation of the laws until further orders.
The movement poses one of the biggest challenges to Modi since he took power in 2014, as he faces criticism from all sides, including from some allies of the BJP. The Shiromani Akali Dal of Punjab quit the ruling National Democratic Alliance at the Centre in September itself.
Another sign of impact was the Congress’ spectacular performance in the urban body polls held in Punjab last month.