Three Opposition members — two from the Congress and one from the BSP — of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence on Friday walked out of a meeting of the panel over the chairman’s refusal to discuss the Agnipath scheme for recruiting soldiers across the three services.
The panel is headed by BJP’s Jual Oram.
The agenda of Friday’s meeting was consideration and adoption of the draft report on the action taken by the government on the observations and recommendations contained in the panel’s report on demands for grants of the Ministry of Defence for 2021-22 on ordnance factories, DRDO, Directorate General of Quality Assurance (DGQA), and NCC.
Besides, the meeting was to chalk out the future programme of the committee.
The move by the Congress’s K C Venugopal and Uttam Kumar Reddy, and BSP’s Danish Ali come at a time when the Opposition parties are engaged in a war of words with the government in Parliament over their demand for a discussion on the rise in prices and the hike in GST rates of essential commodities.
Senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, too, is a member of the panel but he was not present.
As soon as the meeting began, Ali is learnt to have demanded a discussion on the issue pointing out that there was huge anger among the youth over it and the violent protests by them had seen thousands of crores worth of public property being damaged.
He is learnt to have said that the scheme has huge financial implications and the primary responsibility of the Standing Committee is to peruse the demands for grants of the ministry. Oram countered, saying the issue was not on the agenda.
Ali pointed out that the scheme was announced last month and argued how the committee could have included it in the agenda at the beginning of the year. Oram said the issue can be discussed in Parliament. With the chairman unrelenting, the members walked out.
Venugopal said they walked out of the meeting in protest over the chairman not taking up the “controversial” Agnipath scheme for discussion “despite our repeated requests”. He said he had written to the chairman earlier demanding that the panel discuss the issue.
“We urged the chairman to clarify. Why was the Parliament Standing Committee on Defence kept in the dark on the Agnipath recruitment scheme? Why was the scheme not taken up in the committee’s budget scrutiny meetings despite involving financial implications? The chairman turned a deaf ear to these crucial questions and the scheme was not discussed,” he said.
Attacking the government, he said it is neither allowing discussions in Parliament nor deliberations in the Standing Committees and is bent upon “bulldozing legislations” in Parliament.
This is not the first time Congress members have walked out of the defence panel. In December 2020, Rahul Gandhi and other members of his party walked out alleging that the panel’s time was being wasted in discussing armed forces’ uniform instead of crucial issues of national security like the Chinese aggression and better equipping the soldiers at the border in Ladakh.