The stage is set for a showdown between the government and the Opposition in the Budget session with Finance Minister Piyush Goyal declaring at an all-party meeting Wednesday that a “Budget is a Budget” and not an Interim Budget or a Vote-on-Account, which is the norm with just a few months to go for the general elections. Follow LIVE UPDATES on the Budget Session of Parliament
In response, sources said, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge vowed to oppose the move in the Lok Sabha when the Budget is presented on February 1. Kharge argued that the government should stick to a Vote-on-Account since its term ends in May.
As soon as Goyal asserted the government position, sources said, Kharge responded: “If it is a full-fledged Budget, we will oppose it.” The all-party meeting was convened by Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan ahead of the Parliament session starting with the President’s Address Thursday.
Kharge told Mahajan that discussions should not be confined to the Motion of Thanks and financial business, sources said. He said his party wanted to discuss the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill and the Rafale deal, too, they said.
When Prem Singh Chandumajra (Akali Dal) argued that issues already debated in the Lok Sabha need not be taken up again, sources said, Kharge referred to news reports and said new facts had emerged on the Rafale deal.
The Congress leader said his party also wanted to question the government for allegedly withholding employment data compiled by the NSSO (National Sample Survey Organisation). The Indian Express reported Wednesday that two members of the National Statistical Commission (NSC) had resigned, with at least one protesting against the withholding of the jobs report for 2017-18.
While Chandumajra pointed to farm distress and minimum support price for agricultural produce, AIADMK’s Ponnusamy Venugopal wanted the Cauvery issue to be discussed, sources said. Sudip Bandyopadhyay of the TMC wanted a debate on the use of EVMs, and SP’s Dharmendra Yadav spoke about reservations in educational institutions, they said.
Another issue that may generate heat is the government’s plea in the Supreme Court to return the land adjacent to the disputed site in Ayodhya to its owners. While the Left parties may attack the government on this count, the Congress is likely to tread carefully.
Also present at the meeting were Parliamentary Affairs Minister Narendra Singh Tomar and both the Ministers of State for Parliamentary Affairs, Vijay Goel and Arjun Ram Meghwal.
Ten sittings have been scheduled for the session — January 31 to February 13 — with the government keen on pushing a series of Bills stuck in the Rajya Sabha: Citizenship (Amendment), Triple Talaq, Representation of the People Act (Amendment) 2017 for NRIs to vote through proxies, and for the National Medical Council.
Wednesday’s meeting began with an emotional appeal by Mahajan to make the last session of the current term “memorable without any disruption”. This time, Goyal will present the “Budget” in the absence of Arun Jaitley, who is in the US for treatment.