Winter session troubles may hit House again; FM to present Eco Survey today
If the winter session of Parliament was a washout, the prognosis for the upcoming Budget session that begins on January 31, with the President’s address to both Houses of Parliament, is no better. As Opposition parties reached out to each other to fine-tune parliamentary strategy, the Narendra Modi government is expected to be in the Opposition’s cross hairs on issues such as the new revelations on snooping by intelligence interception company Pegasus, farm distress, management of the third wave of Covid-19, the sale of national carrier Air India, and Chinese “incursions” into eastern Ladakh.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will present the Economic Survey 2021-22 on Monday and the Union Budget on Tuesday. This is expected to go off with only sporadic interruption. But the Budget session is taking place amid a heated election campaign in five states – Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa, and Manipur – that go to polls in seven phases from February 10 to March 7.
As parties go head to head in the field, reverberations will hit Parliament as well. This is not all. Some Bills awaiting discussion and passage are also hotly contested. The Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2021, for instance, has been opposed vigorously by several Opposition-ruled states, including Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Maharashtra, and Kerala.
Another issue that is hanging fire is the suspension for the entire winter session of some Opposition Rajya Sabha (RS) Members of Parliament. In the Maharashtra state Legislative Assembly, similar suspension of 12 Members of the Legislative Assembly was struck down by the Supreme Court (SC), which chastised the state legislature machinery and government. If that ruling is extrapolated in the RS, the government might come in for Opposition criticism.
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One Bill that is unlikely to come up is the Bill to outlaw cryptocurrency. Prime Minister Modi had flagged this issue in his address to the World Economic Forum, seeking concerted global action. An earlier proposal to ban cryptocurrency was struck down by the SC. However, it seems that the government will not do anything on this issue in a hurry.
The Personal Data Protection Bill is eagerly awaited and may come up in the Budget session.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi and RS Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu have called separate meetings with floor leaders of political parties on Monday for smooth functioning of the House during the session. The government has also called an all-party meeting on Monday. This is unlikely to break the ice.
Congress President Sonia Gandhi has already held one round of meetings with parliamentary party leaders and will reach out to other Opposition parties. Trinamool Congress leader Derek O’Brien has warned of his intention to force the Standing Committee of Parliament attached to the home ministry to take up the issue of TekFog, the application that, he sayd, has serious national security ramifications.
According to legislature watchdog PRS Legislative Research, in the winter session, the Lok Sabha (LS) functioned for 77 per cent of its scheduled time and the RS for 43 per cent of its scheduled time.
Given the ongoing third wave of the pandemic, the LS and the RS will return to have separate sittings in shifts with members seated across both chambers of Parliament to ensure distancing norms.
The LS will take up the discussion on the Motion of Thanks on the President’s address from Wednesday and PM Modi is expected to reply to the debate on February 7.The first part of the Budget session will be held from January 31 to February 11, after which it will go into recess to examine the budgetary allocations for different departments. The session will resume on March 14 and conclude on April 8.
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