Angry Opposition protests over government’s move to slash import duty on wheat to zero allegedly to benefit multinational firms forced adjournment of the proceedings of Rajya Sabha till Friday afternoon.
Congress, BSP, SP, JD-U and Left members alleged that the move to slash import duty on wheat from 10 per cent to zero at a time when the country has enough buffer stock will hit the farmer hard. The move ahead of the winter wheat crop will help MNCs to dump cheap wheat from US, France and Ukraine in the country, they said.
Food Minister Ram Vilas Paswan said there was no shortage of wheat in the country and the decision was taken to cool down domestic prices which has shown an upward trend in recent weeks.
“Last few days, wheat prices are on the rise,” he said, adding “this is not a permanent decision”, indicating it can be reviewed if need arises.
Minister of State for Agriculture Parsottambhai Rupala said the decision was necessitated as domestic prices were rising. The government uses market intervention to keep prices in check, he said, adding that the decision on import duty will be reconsidered if farmers faced problems.
Raising the issue, CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury said he had given a notice under rule 267 to suspend business of the day to discuss the decision that will “ruin Indian farmers” while MNCs will rake in super-profits.
Asserting that wheat prices in retail market were rising because of demonetisation, he said the farmers are already hit hard by demonetisation as they are unable to buy seeds and fertiliser due to cash shortage.
“He has to make distress sale,” he said adding wheat is being sold at Rs 700-800 per qunital as against MSP of Rs 1540 fixed by the government.
Describing the move to reduce import duty as “shameful act”, he said it will lead to food riots and added he condemns the decision. “This is against the interest of the nation and its farmers. It is an anti-national act,” he said.
Bhupinder Yadav (BJP) said another 267 notice cannot be taken up if debate has resumed and remained inconclusive on another notice accepted under the same rule. Deputy Chairman P J Kurien agreed with Yadav and said he is not allowing Yechury’s motion.
BSP chief Mayawati (BSP) said the decision will benefit the rich and was against the farmers, while Sharad Yadav (JD-U) said wheat prices have fallen in the world. He also questioned the need to allow imports when there were enough stocks available within the country.
Jairam Ramesh (Cong) said if the buffer stock is high, why were imports being allowed.
A good monsoon, perfect soil conditions and moisture also have created ideal conditions for a bumper wheat crop but reduction in duty would mean that the companies of US, France and Ukraine would get benefited and Indian farmers would go without any incentive, the senior Congress leader said.
“This is a slap on face of Indian agriculture in the year when it is celebrating 50 years of green revolution,” he said adding that farmers have no cash to buy seeds and fertilisers. “This is ‘videsh uthan’ (benefit of foreigners) and anti-farmer,” Ramesh said.
Sukhendu Shekhar Roy (TMC) asked the Chair to take a sense of the House if an obituary reference should be made for the 111 persons who died standing in queues before banks and ATMs in the past one month post-demonetisation.
As Kurien moved to Zero Hour mentions, opposition members trooped in the Well raising anti-government slogans, shouting “Kisan virodhi yeh sarkar nahi chalegi, nahi chalegi (anti-farmer government will not be tolerated)”, forcing him to adjourn the proceedings till noon.
When the House met at noon, the pleas of Chairman Hamid Ansari to allow the Question Hour to function went unheeded, with opposition members on their feet raising slogans.
Soon after he called for taking up the Question Hour, the opposition members including those from Congress and SP, were in the Well and raised slogans. Slogans of “Kisan virodhi yeh sarkar nahin chalegi” rent the air as Chairman said that “you cannot do this during Question Hour”.
When Ansari again took up Question Hour, protesting Opposition members gave back a resounding ‘No’, while those from the treasury benches shouted ‘Yes’ waiving questions. Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said “unfortunately the opposition members are not allowing the House to function. The President also appealed to members to do their job by allowing the House to function.
They should be ashamed of themselves and take his advise to allow important issues to be discussed.”