The recently concluded Budget Session was not only one of the longest sessions to be held in recent years, but it also was one in which the ruling government was repeatedly held accountable by its own MLAs for the bureaucracy ruling the roost at the cost of political representatives and the failures on several fronts including transport policy, power purchase agreements, law and order and illegal sand mining.
The session, from February 20 to March 4, would also be remembered for plenty of time given by the Speaker, Rana KP Singh, to the opposition MLAs to speak in Question Hour and Zero Hour which was used by them to highlight many issues concerning the citizens of the state and, interestingly, attack the Speaker himself. This happened in the case of Pawan Kumar Tinu on the final day of the session when the Speaker did not take any action against him even as he raised slogans against him.
The provisions of the budget were not discussed threadbare by the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) during the session, but were perfunctorily commented upon. On this count, the SAD was hampered by the fact that previous finance minister, Parminder Singh Dhindsa, who used to rebut Manpreet Badal with facts and figures in Budget Sessions, was no longer present in the House after having rebelled against Sukhbir Badal and joined hands with his father, Parminder Singh Dhindsa.
Interestingly, the present finance minister, Manpreet Badal was the only previous finance minister present in the House. He had earlier held the portfolio during 2007-2012 term of the SAD-BJP government.
The most embarrassing moments for the government, however, did not come from the opposition ranks but from the treasury benches where MLAs did not mince any words to highlight the failings of the government despite having been in power for three years. The most searing of attacks was made by the Congress MLA from Gidderbaha, Amarinder Singh Raja Warring who is also an advisor to Chief Minister Amarinder Singh. Warring took it upon himself to corner Transport Minister Razia Sultana on at least two occasions over the failure of the government to come out with a transport policy till date and also over the free run enjoyed by officials posted in the transport department.
The united manner in which the Congress MLAs rose as one to take on the bureaucracy over the issue of VIP rooms in Punjab Bhawan in New Delhi, reflected the growing anger against the bureaucracy. Congress MLAs joined hands with AAP legislators to show their massive resentment against the IAS officers who enjoyed better perks than them even though the MLAs ranked higher in protocol.
The angst against Chief Secretary Karan Avtar Singh and Advocate General Atul Nanda was all the more palpable because they were the only persons who were referred to by their designation or their name in the entire episode. No wonder that the Advocate General, who normally attends the House when it is in session, chose to stay away for the entire duration this time.
Power Purchase Agreements signed with private power producers by the previous SAD-BJP government have been in the thick of controversy for the past several weeks now and it was not surprising to find Congress MLA from Jalandhar Cantonment, Pargat Singh, trashing the White Paper on the issue which has been promsied by Amarinder in the Monsoon Session.
On the last day of the session, Pargat let loose a volley of charges saying that while committees, sub-committees and White Papers are being talked about, the politicians are losing face value before the common man.
Equally scathing were Pargat’s remarks on the government inaction in the Guru Granth Sahib desecration issue where he attacked the government for not having acted in the matter. On the sand mining issue too, apart from the opposition, it was a Congress MLA who voiced his concern.
The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) alleged the involvement of Congress minister Balbir Singh Sidhu and MLA Kiki Dhillon in illegal sand mining in Ghaggar river due to which Chhatbir Zoo, the biggest in Punjab, was under threat. A spot report by The Indian Express too revealed that rampant sand mining was taking place in the area.
The remarks of the DGP Dinkar Gupta on Kartarpur Corridor after kicked up storm in the House. After the controversy had died down, the specific of deteriorating law and order conditions in Punjab also came up for discussion.
Lok Insaaf Party (LIP) MLA Simarjeet Singh Bains and SAD MLA Sharanjit Singh Dhillon pointed out the numerous instances of theft, dacoity, custodial deaths and ransom cases in the state which gave the general impression of lawlessness. SAD leader Bikram Singh Majithia alleged that ransom calls were being made to the real estate developers in the state and gangster operating from Punjab jails with impunity.
The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) did not behave in as aggressive a manner in the House as in the past sessions, but it seemed intent on raising specific issues in the house as well as daily demonstrations out of the House. With a structured approach, and leaving the habit of walkouts at the drop of a hat, AAP members managed to highlight important issues in the session including the failure of govt to distribute post-matric scholarships, bringing out their own ‘white paper’ on power purchase agreements and managing to get an ITI sanctioned from the Technical Education Minister for one of their legislators’ constituency.
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