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Rules Flouted in RS to Pass Farm Bills? Decoding Opposition Ruckus

Did chairperson Harivansh Singh flout Rajya Sabha rules to get farm bills passed? Can the bills be challenged?

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Papers flying in the air, mics being broken and books being torn – No, this didn't happen is an unmonitored school classroom. These were the scenes witnessed in Parliament on Sunday, 20 September.

TMC MP Derek O’Brien attempted to tear the Rajya Sabha rulebook right in front of the Speaker’s Chair, an act that has now gotten him and seven other MPs suspended for a week for creating ruckus in the House.

The Opposition alleged that a 'division of votes' was not allowed before passing the crucial farm bills. But, was an attempt to tear the rulebook just an act of 'unruly behaviour' ? Or was it also symbolic of Parliamentary proceedings as a whole, this Monsoon session?

Firstly, let us see what the rulebook, that O'Brien attempted to tear, says about voting in the House.

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WHAT THE RULE BOOK SAYS ON VOTING?

According to the rules, there are two methods of passing a bill in the Rajya Sabha:

First is the voice vote. In this process, the chairperson or the deputy chairperson puts a question to the House and then asks members to put forward their opinion in the forms of ayes and noes. Based on a rough measure of which side yelled louder, the bill is passed or not passed. It's a faster process and is generally acceptable if there is overwhelming consensus and support for a bill.

The other method involves actual voting by MPs – called a division. Now this is done by getting MPs to vote electronically. A division might take a little more time but its results cannot be disputed.

Now, if in case the members challenge the voice vote result, the Speaker can either take a proper head count by asking 'ayes' and 'noes' to rise in their seats. If the chair does not do that, then he/she can put the question to vote for a second time in terms of 'ayes' and 'noes'. But, if the decision still remains challenged even by one member, the votes need to be taken by the electronic voter.

WHAT EXACTLY HAPPENED ON SUNDAY?

On Sunday, two ordinances – Farmers’ and Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 – were passed by voice vote even as Opposition claims to have demanded a division of votes

The ruckus began when chairperson Harivansh Singh rejected the demand from the Opposition benches to end the session for the day at 1pm, as per the schedule. 

If it had ended on time, the passage of the bill would have been shifted to Monday. This would have given the Opposition more to move resolutions against the Bills.

Following this, several members including AAP's Sanjay Singh, TMC's Dola Sen, Arpita Ghosh marched into the well of the House, raising slogans. A few of them climbed on the table in front of the Secretary General, the mics of both the Secretary General and the Deputy Chairman were broken and O’Brien attempted to tear the rule book.

Amid the sloganeering, Harivansh Singh rejected the amendment moved by CPI(M) MP KK Ragesh against the bills, who was reportedly in the well protesting. The House was then adjourned for 15 minutes and the bills were passed via 'voice vote' after it was reconvened.

Amid the ruckus, Rajya Sabha TV went mute for a few minutes, making it impossible to hear the demands and the protests of the Opposition on the Bill.
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WERE RULES FLOUTED TO PASS THE BILL?

These bills were meant to replace ordinances that the Modi government had already promulgated earlier this year, which eventually have to be approved by Parliament.

In case of Sunday's events, the bills were absolutely controversial and debatable and there was no clear consensus to put it through a voice vote, especially amid the chaos.

The Opposition claims that the deputy chairperson did not even consider their demand for a division of votes on a resolution to send the two bills to a select committee.

WOULD THE BILL HAVE PASSED WITH ELECTRONIC VOTE?

That's difficult to ascertain. While SAD was clearly not going to vote in favour of the bill, the Biju Janata Dal, the TRS, the BJD and the AIADMK – who are considered 'friendly parties' of the BJP – had actually expressed concerns about these bills.

The Opposition has alleged that since many including BJP allies were not going to vote in favour of the bill, the Deputy Speaker Singh was “in a hurry” to pass the bills by a “frivolous” voice vote.

CAN THE BILLS BE CHALLENGED?

The Opposition moved a no-confidence motion against Singh but it was not accepted. But, even if it was, the decision of passing the bills on voice vote would have remained unaffected. Now, can these bills be challenged in a court of law?

Punjab CM Captain Amarinder Singh has already said his government will challenge “unconstitutional, undemocratic and anti-farmer” moves by the Centre in the courts. The Bills can be challenged by states under Article 131, which allows for cases between the Centre and States in the Supreme Court of India.

Several states, starting with Kerala, had earlier this year filed cases against the Centre over the controversial CAA. Any challenges against the Farm Bills can only be filed after the President notifies them and they become Acts.

Whether the Bills will stand the test of law in court remains to be seen, but for now, the Opposition has clearly upped the ante against the government over the way the bills were passed in the Rajya Sabha on Sunday, and questioned the impartiality of the functioning of Parliament.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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