A controversial bill, facilitating the transfer of more than half-a-dozen “mandals”of Telangana to the residual state of Andhra Pradesh and pave the way for the completion of the Polavaram irrigation project, was passed through voice vote in the Lok Sabha on Friday amidst stiff resistance from members belonging to the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) and Biju Janata Dal (BJD).
The bill, which replaces an ordinance, was carried through without a discussion on its merits, after several members, including Trinamool Congress’s Saugata Roy and TRS’s B Vinod Kumar, questioned the validity of its introduction by Home Minister Rajnath Singh. As TRS members protested and shouted slogans, they were joined by members belonging to the Left parties and MQM member Asaduddin Owaisi. But Speaker Sumitra Mahajan over-ruled their objections and started the process for the passage of the bill.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi could be seen holding hurried consultations with floor leader Mallikarjun Kharge, K V Thomas and Jyotiraditya Scindia, but the party did not take a stand against the bill. Sources told The Indian Express the party had assured the BJP that it will back the legislation in the Rajya Sabha, where the ruling coalition lacks the numerical strength to get it passed.
The reason is that the whole measure could be sourced to the Congress. The sources said the Andhra Government had identified two more Telangana villages, which were required for the project but were not included in the present list. The government, according to them, was not in favour of reopening of the matter because that would require a replay of the whole process, including a presidential clearance.
Both Saugata Roy and Vinod Kumar argued that the ordinance was unconstitutional as it was brought about when the separate Telangana state had already been formed. Kumar claimed the President, before issuing the ordinance, had not elicited the views of the legislative assemblies of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, as was needed for altering boundaries of the two states. Therefore, the bill was not valid under Article 3 of the Constitution. “Let all parliamentarians know whether the government can alter the boundaries of a state by bringing in an ordinance,” Kumar said in the House.
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Speaker Mahajan said, “The issue, whether or not the bill has been introduced in violation of Article 3, requires interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution. The members would appreciate that interpretation of the provisions of the Constitution is primarily the responsibility of the court of law.”
BJD leader Bhratruhari Mahtab said his party was not against the project itself but the arbitrariness with which the height of the dam had been increased. This would lead to inundation of 307 tribal villages in Orissa and Chhattisgarh, he said. He suggested that the height of the project be brought down to ensure that tribals were not affected in any region.