Unlike Today's Farm Bills, Even Britishers' Champaran Agrarian Bill Underwent Legislative Scrutiny
The country is passing through a deepening and alarming
COVID crisis contributed to by the failure of the Union Government to deal with
it through robust public policy measures. This crisis has been preceded by a
more lingering crisis manifested in NDA regime's calculated denial of scrutiny
of legislative proposals in Parliament on a non partisan basis. It is being
intensified over the last six years by employing brute strength in the Lok
The stubborn stand taken by the government in the Rajya Sabha on September 21
2020 against the opposition parties, -including the Biju Janata Dal- demand to
refer the farm Bills- Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and
Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and the Farmers' (Empowerment and Protection)
Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020- to a Select
Committee of the House is reflective of its unwillingness to subject these
important Bills to deeper levels of deliberation and consultation eschewing
It is a well accepted proposition in a parliamentary democracy that law making
is a deliberative and consultative process. When the NDA regime willfully went
against the parliamentary convention of referring Bills to Department related
Parliamentary Standing Committees of Parliament for scrutiny and examination
right after it assumed office in 2014 it struck harshly at the root of
deliberative and consultative process.
Neither the farm bills nor the earlier Bills such as the Constitution Amendment
Bill abrogating special status for Jammu and Kashmir and Bills concerning
Citizenship Amendment , Triple Talaq and Unlawful Activities Prevention Bill
were referred to any of the Committees of Parliament inputs from a variety of
stake holders. In the absence of such in-depth deliberation free from party
perspectives the Bills or legislative proposals suffer from a deficit of
The crude majority of the ruling party in the Lok Sabha and the cobbling up of
numbers in the Rajya Sabha enables it to pass legislations without thread bare
discussion and critical analysis of their provisions. As a result of this
serious deficiency of scrutiny such Bills become Acts with the reason and
rationale required for wider pubic acceptance.
On January 16 1948 Mahatma Gandhi had thoughtfully said, "No Cabinet
worthy of being representative of a large mass of mankind can afford to take
any step merely because it is likely to win the hasty applause of an unthinking
public. In the midst of insanity, should not our best representatives retain sanity
and bravely prevent a wreck of the ship of State under their management?"
The lack of sanity reflected in pushing numerous legislations in the Parliament
by the NDA regime from 2014 onwards by avoiding parliamentary scrutiny on a
bipartisan basis in parliamentary committees has become a new normal negating
the very basis of parliamentary democracy.
Sanity demands that before legislations on sensitive subjects are taken up in
the Parliament for discussion and passage the ruling regime should necessarily
mobilize public opinion in their favour so that people would accept them
willingly and a conducive atmosphere created for their effective
implementation. That is why it is said that better scrutiny leads to better
The farm bills were neither referred to the concerned parliamentary standing
committees nor were they referred to the Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha as
suggested by the opposition parties for scrutiny and examination.
The statement of the Agriculture Minister who piloted these Bills in the Rajya
Sabha that there was no need to refer these bills to the Select Committee of
the House because these were small Bills, sounds so hollow. So small that they
have triggered off nation wide farmer protests!
The protests by farmers in many parts of India against these Bills even before
these were taken up in the Parliament clearly indicated public resentment
against the Government for neglecting scrutiny and thorough examination of
legislations which deeply impact their livelihoods. Despite this the government
pushed these through, ignoring the opposition pleas and the peoples protests.
It is instructive that in pre-independent India there were occasions when the
colonial authorities used to refer Bills to committees of legislatures for nuanced
discussion and deliberation before these became the law of the land.
The most glaring instance was the Champaran Agrarian Bill of 1917 which was
framed by the British authorities after Mahatma Gandhi launched his historic
Champaran Satyagraha in 1917 to abolish forcible cultivation of indigo on the
land of farmers at the dictation of British planters.
At the heart of that momentous Satyagraha remained the deliberation and
consultation by Gandhi with the farmers, British planters, colonial bureaucracy,
police and ordinary people. It is instructive that Champaran Satyagraha which
began with Gandhi breaking the law ended with the framing of the law to put an
end to forcible plantation of indigo.
And when the framing of law began and the Champaran Agrarian Bill was
formulated and introduced in the Bihar-Odisha Legislative Assembly many members
of the Assembly demanded for its reference to the Select Committee of the House
for scrutiny and examination. The British Government conceded it and even
Mahatma Gandhi was requested to examine the Bill.
It is indeed tragic that hundred and three years after Champaran Satyagraha the
NDA Government is sabotaging legislative scrutiny of farm Bills and using its
crude majority to pass them disregarding the principles of parliamentary
oversight which is indispensable for fine tuning Bills and improving its depth
The passage of the farm Bills in the Rajya Sabha by voice vote and the request
of the opposition to the Deputy Chairman to put the Bills to vote, and failure
of the Deputy Chairman to do so clearly prove the point that procedure for
passage of the Bills have been violated. Such procedural lapse is subversion of
The need of the hour is to restore the culture of deliberative and consultative
process of law making and salvage the democratic process in the Parliament -
the apex representative body in the constitutional scheme of Governance.