It was the issue of government’s decision to allow duty free import of wheat that led to a heated debate in the upper house on Thursday. In the firing line was senior minister M Venkaiah Naidu, who faced the opposition’s intervention after he rebutted their criticism.
As angry exchanges were witnessed in the house, Deputy Chairman PJ Kurien checked the tempers saying members can criticise the government and it is their “right”.
The Opposition had raised the issue saying why government has allowed duty free import of wheat at the time of bumper crop. The Opposition members also charged the government for not fulfilling the promise of paying a minimum price equivalent to one-and-a-half-times the cost to farmers for their crop.
Farmers were being forced to do distress sale of wheat and pulses as zero-duty import had been allowed in a year of bumper harvest, JD(U)’s Sharad Yadav said as his rule 267 adjournment motion was converted into a Zero Hour mention.
While the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for wheat has been fixed at Rs 1,625 per qunital, the going rate in the market is Rs 1,550, Yadav said, adding that against a MSP ranging between Rs 4,527 to Rs 4,850 per quintal for different pulses, the going rate is Rs 3,400-3,500 per qunital.
His contention was supported by members across opposition parties with CPI(M)’s Tapan Sen demanding revoking the order for zero duty imports of wheat.
Another senior opposition leader Sitaram Yechury said the BJP came to the power on the promise of paying one-and-a-half times the cost as MSP but the farmers were being forced to sell their produce at less than MSP.
As members of Congress, SP and Left parties also joined the issue, senior Union minister Venkaiah Naidu stood up to rebut the opposition party’s charges. Arguing that opposition members can give a notice for discussion, he said it was “unfair” to attack the government and question its motives.
At this leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad stood up defending the Opposition’s charge saying they are within their rights to do so during the Zero Hour. Azad further went on to say that it was not his (Naidu’s) job to intervene as he was neither the Agriculture Minister, nor the Parliamentary Affairs Minister who responds in absence of the concerned minister.
Naidu, however, continued and told the house that a Group of Ministers was discussing the issue and an appropriate decision will be taken at an appropriate time and asked the opposition not to make allegations.
As debate got heated, Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman Kurien stepped in and said MPs can raise any issue in the Zero Hour and ministers have a right to respond.
“When minister stands up to respond, it is the duty of members to listen,” he said, adding “criticising, attacking government is a right of members. Members can do that,” as order was restored in the house.
Later, Union Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar said any senior minister can definitely respond to the members’ concerns and Naidu had done just that.