Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan on Saturday steered clear of the issue of granting Leader of Opposition status in the House to the Congress, saying the all-party meet she had convened on the eve of the budget session of Parliament was to “discuss the business of the House”.
Mahajan had earlier said she would take a decision on the issue before the budget session after consulting constitutional experts and “experienced” persons.
Asked after the all-party meet if he had raised the issue of being accorded the status of the Leader of Opposition, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge too said the meeting had been called to discuss business for the session. One source said the matter did not come up at all.
Meanwhile, Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said his party would comply with all formalities to get the status of the Leader of Opposition in in Lok Sabha. “We are ready to do all formalities,” Azad said after Congress president Sonia Gandhi met top leaders at her 10, Janpath residence.
Azad, who is Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, said: “We are not just asking for the post for a representative of the party but it is a constitutional requirement in the selection process of several high offices.”
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At the all-party meeting, Opposition parties sought a discussion on the issue of price rise on Monday, the first day of the session. They also wanted a discussion on the hike in train fare ahead of the railway budget. The demand was made by M Thambidurai of the AIADMK and Bhartruhari Mahtab of the Biju Janata Dal.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu first suggested that members flag both issues during the discussion on the general budget and the railway budget, but then said Prime Minister Narendra Modi was of the view that the government was prepared for any discussion sought by the Opposition.
The AIADMK and BJD floor leaders argued that replies to the two budgets could not be as focussed as replies to the precise issues of inflation and rail-fare hike. So, the two issues are set to be discussed but it is not clear if one of them will be scheduled for Monday. This aspect will be addressed by the Business Advisory Committee (BAC). Naidu has called leaders of parties for a breakfast meeting on Monday. The issue may come up there too.
The government was represented by Naidu, his deputies Santosh Gangwar and Prakash Javadekar and Consumer Affairs Minister Ram Vilas Paswan. Participants included Congress leaders Kharge and Jyotiraditya Scindia, Kalyan Banerjee of the Trinamool Congress, P Karunakaran of the CPM and Dharmendra Yadav of the Samajwadi Party. Prime Minister Modi and senior BJP leader L K Advani joined them over lunch later.
Naidu said since standing committees have not yet been constituted, the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha will discuss demands for grants for three ministries each. Sources said constitution of the committees has been held up because both the BJP and Congress failed to send suggestions for the purpose.
Naidu said the government plans bringing bills to replace the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014 and the ordinance with respect to the Polavaram project under the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation (Amendment) Ordinance, 2014.
The TRAI (Amendment) Ordinance cleared on May 28 ensured that the government could appoint Nripendra Misra as Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister. The AP ordinance was promulgated on May 29, ahead of the official division of the state on June 2.
Naidu said the Commerce Ministry will bring in a bill on the National Institute of Design. He said ministries had been asked to look at bills which had lapsed in the Lok Sabha or have been pending in Rajya Sabha and prioritize them.
Kalyan Banerjee of the TMC raised the issue of federalism and its alleged violation. He also drew the attention of the Speaker to the allocation of time in the House and space in Parliament House. He said numbers were crucial and the strength of parties must be respected on this count. Mahajan was said to have assured him that she would call a meeting of leaders to resolve the matter.
The Speaker informed the leaders that a new system may be put in place which will allow members to see the image of the person speaking in the House on division boards installed on either side.