The Budget session of Parliament is all set for a stormy start on Tuesday with major opposition parties planning to corner the government on issues including the on-going JNU controversy as Congress President Sonia Gandhi accused it of launching a planned attack on freedom of expression and right to dissent.
Indications of a tumultuous beginning of the session emerged at the all-party meetings convened by Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan and Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu with the Opposition accusing the government of “setting the agenda for disruption”.
Also at a meeting of the Congress Working Committee, Sonia put the onus on the government for the smooth functioning of Parliament.
She declared her intent to rope in “like-minded parties” to target the ruling dispensation on issues like the JNU row, dalit scholar Rohit Vemula’s suicide in Hyderabad University and Pathankot terror attack.
On its part, the government assured opposition leaders that they will not find it wanting in ensuring discussion on any issue of concern.
“The government is as much concerned about these issues as any other party and we are more than keen for a detailed discussion on all of them,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Naidu said.
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1:00 pm: Both Houses of Parliament have been adjourned till 24.02.2016 till 11 am.
12.10 pm: President Pranab Mukherjee concludes his address to both Houses of Parliament
You can read the highlights of President Pranab’s speech below.
11.00 am: President Pranab Mukherjee addresses both Houses
Here are some of the highlights from the President’s speech:
* Defence procurement procedure has been streamlined with a focus on indigenously designed, developed & manufactured weapon systems
* Working to ensure that our Armed Forces will be equipped with the most capable and sophisticated armaments in the world
* Government played a proactive role in addressing climate change by launching International Solar Alliance
* My Government is focused on Sabka Vikas, beyond just the economic advancements that dominate headlines
* Sabka Vikas means that backward sections of society are equally valued and are genuine stakeholders in the country’s progress
* We must ensure that the poor and deprived are truly empowered to take advantage of opportunities to improve their lives
* Parliament reflects the supreme will of people. Democratic temper calls for debate & discussion and not disruption or obstruction
* Let me congratulate the security forces in successfully foiling the attack at the Pathankot airbase
* Firm and effective steps will be taken to deal with any situation arising out of cross-border terrorism
* Terrorism is a global threat and strong counter-terrorism measures are necessary worldwide to eradicate it completely
* My Government is fully committed to firmly deal with all challenges concerning the security of the country
* My Government is also working on a new Civil Aviation Policy with thrust on connectivity to small cities
* Domestic Air Passenger traffic has registered a substantial growth during the year
* Setting up world-class infrastructure for Electronics manufacturing across the country remains a priority for my Government
* Twenty nine Electronic Manufacturing Clusters are under development
* The country recorded the highest ever software exports during 2015
* My government has revived majority of the 73 stalled road projects, completed construction of 7200km of highway
* In the year 2015 India witnessed the highest ever generation of electricity
* My government firmly believes that economic development and environmental protection can co-exist
* As part of the Namami Gange Programme, my Government is implementing several projects in all 118 cities
* Essence of progress lies in bringing a sense of fulfillment to the poor and the deprived
* The poorest of the poor are entitled to the first charge on the nation’s resources
* MGNREGA sscheme has been revamped to ensure efficient disbursements of wages and creation of productive assets
* Make in India initiative has achieved 39 per cent increase in FDI inflow despite adverse global investment climate
* About 20,000 madrasa students are undergoing skill training under ‘Naya Manzil’ scheme
* Rural development is one of the top priorities of my government
*The development philosophy of my government ‘Sabka saath, Sabka vikas’ is to eradicate poverty which is the worst kind of violence.
* Well being of farmers is vital to the nation’s prosperity
* My government is committed to the philosophy of ‘per drop, more crop’
* Removing poverty and destitution is our most sacred responsibility
* * Highest urea production was achieved in 2015. Government realises role of animal husbandry, dairy and fisheries sectors
10.45 am: President leaves Rashtrapati Bhavan
President Pranab Mukherjee has left his official residence for Parliament House where he is set to address both Houses on his government’s plans, policies and vision for the year ahead.
10.40 am: Entire country is watching, hope it’s a fruitful session, says PM
Speaking to the media ahead of the Budget session, Prime Minister Narendra Modi today said discussions were held with political parties to ensure that the session is fruitful and not a wasted one.
“I wish that the Parliament session will be fruitful and there is constructive criticism as well,” Modi said.
10. 30 am: Here’s a word cloud of President Pranab Mukherjee’s speech last year
10.15 am: Must discuss, take decisions on bills, says Kharge
Leader of the Congress party in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said his party had some issues of concern including the JNU row, the suicide of Rohith Vemula at Hyderabad University, and the FTII crisis. “These are the things we want to talk about,” Kharge said, adding that “a bill which faces objections needs to be discussed and only then a decision should be taken.”
10.00 am: President to address both Houses
On the first day of the Budget session, the President addresses both Houses highlighting the government’s agenda and policy for the upcoming year. You can read President Pranab Mukherjee’s February 2015 address here.
9. 50 am: Lekhi gives notice for discussion
BJP MP Meenakshi Lekhi has given notice in Lok Sabha for a discussion on the JNU row as well as the controversy erupting after LeT operative David Headley named Ishrat Jahan in his deposition before a Mumbai court.
9.45 am: BJP parliamentary party to meet
MoS Parliamentary Affairs MA Naqvi on Tuesday said he hoped the Budget session functions properly, adding that the government was “ready to debate on any issue raised by opposition.”
Meanwhile, the BJP Parliamentary Party executive meeting is scheduled to take place today at 5:30 pm in Parliament.
The first showdown between the ruling and the opposition benches is expected in Rajya Sabha on February 24, the first working day of the session when the JNU issue could come up for discussion.
While the opposition has closed ranks to corner the government on it, BJP feels it stands to gain by turning the debate into one between “patriots and anti-nationals,” as a party leader said.
At the CWC meet, Gandhi accused the Modi government of having “lost all sense of balance” and undermining democratic norms over the JNU row, making it clear that Congress will take up the issue aggressively along with like-minded parties.
“The ruling establishment seems to have lost all sense of balance, and of proportion. It appears determined to undermine all democratic norms. It seems hell-bent to destroy the spirit of inquiry, the spirit of questioning, the spirit of debate and dissent.
“First, it muzzled our voice in the Lok Sabha. Then it silenced civil society activists and organisations. Now is the turn of universities,” Gandhi said at the Congress Working Committee meeting.
In a statement, the CWC meeting, attended by party vice president Rahul Gandhi and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, lamented that Constitutional values and democratic norms are under “systematic assault”.
“What has happened in a leading institution of higher learning and in similar institutions, and the violence and hooliganism that happened in a court in the nation’s capital has shocked the nation”, it said.
After the all-party meet called by Naidu, Opposition leaders dismissed it as a mere “formality” and lamented that the Prime Minister and the BJP have not taken action against a single leader making “provocative” statements, and put the ball in the government’s court for smooth running of the House.
Making it clear that Opposition will not allow passage of any key bill in the first half of the session, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Ghulam Nabi Azad and Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said opposition will “on merit” allow the passage of only those bills on which there is general consensus.
“Contentious bills should not be brought. Bring only those bills on which there is a general agreement. Bills like GST will not come in the first half of the session,” Kharge said.
The meeting saw a number of opposition and BJP leaders demanding an early debate on the JNU row with CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury saying the current situation drew a “chilling parallel” with the rise of fascism in Germany.
“The government is setting the agenda for Parliament’s disruption even before its session has begun. We have seen this agenda of BJP for last three-four sessions. The government creates a situation in the country that is responsible for disruption,” he said.
In indications that the government is reaching out separately to non-Congress and non-Left parties, Naidu said a number of small parties and regional parties feel that they were not getting adequate time to raise their issues due to disruptions in Parliament.
When Opposition members asked the government to hold all-party meetings on key issues like GST, Naidu said these do not serve purpose and government will instead prefer one-on-one deliberations.
Debunking the ruling party charge that Congress was blocking Parliament, Gandhi hit back saying “the problem is not with us, it is with the government which refuses to accept that the democratic right of the Opposition is to raise burning public issues for debate and discussion”.
“It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that Parliament functions,” he said.
Holding the government responsible for non-functioning of Parliament in the last two sessions, Azad said the government and the ruling party have failed to take any action on the issues raised by the opposition over controversial statements made by BJP leaders.
The government has prioritised 32 business items for the Budget session beginning Tuesday which include 11 bills pending in Rajya Sabha and one in the Lok Sabha.
Financial business includes eight items relating to Railway and General Budgets and the Budget of Arunachal Pradesh covering Finance Bill and Appropriation Bills pertaining to 2016-17 and Supplementary Demands for Grant.
Upping the ante on the JNU row, Yechury said, “There was manufactured evidence (in Germany, which led to) burning of Reichstag building, which all ended with the end of World War II. Similarly, there is manufactured row in JNU. Manufactured evidences were given.
“Those, who are responsible for this are moving free. There is lot of talk about nationalism over the JNU row. It is very similar to the nationalism that Hitler used, to come to power,” Yechury said.