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Parliament Session Day 5: Sitharaman on GST, uproar over Anurag Thakur’s remarks on Nehru-Gandhi family; and more

Parliament Day 5: Here are the top developments of the proceedings of Parliament on Day 5.

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | September 19, 2020 12:05:32 am
Opp, states see new faultline: Centre usurps powers, weakens federalismParliamentarians in the Lok Sabha during the ongoing Monsoon Session of Parliament, amid the coronavirus pandemic, in New Delhi. (Photo: LSTV via PTI)

On the fifth day of Parliament’s truncated monsoon session, Lok Sabha approved the supplementary demands for additional spending of Rs 2.35 lakh crore, which include a cash outgo of Rs 1.66 lakh crore, primarily to meet expenses for combating the Covid pandemic.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that probably for the first time the government has sought such a huge amount in the first batch of the supplementary demands for grants. She said the government has sought Rs 40,000 crore towards MGNREGA, thus taking the total outgo towards Rs 1 lakh crore, the highest so far. The budget for 2020-21 has earmarked about Rs 61,500 crore for MGNREGA. She also said the allocations are being increased for people-centric schemes like PM Garib Kalyan Yojana and other social welfare schemes.

Sitharaman also said that the GST Council will arrive at a common ground on ways to compensate states for loss of revenue, amid opposition charge that the Centre is reneging on its promise of paying compensation. She said she will honour the commitments made by her predecessor Arun Jaitley with regard to the Goods and Services Tax (GST) compensation payout. “Even if we are in an act of God situation, but we will discuss in the Council how to give compensation to the states… The Council will take a call on how to borrow to meet the (revenue) gap,” she said. The minister, however, ruled out funding the revenue shortfall from the consolidated fund of India, saying the amount has to be paid from the compensation cess kitty.

Replying to the Opposition’s arguments that the BJP criticised MGNREGA when introduced by the UPA government and yet using it, Sitharaman said, “Launching MGNREGA is one thing and using it effectively is another. According to Comptroller & Auditor General of India, MGNREGA funds were sent in ghost accounts.”

The Taxation and Other Laws (Relaxation and Amendment of Certain Provisions) Bill, 2020, was also introduced in the Lok Sabha by Sitharaman. During a discussion on the Bill, MoS Finance Anurag Thakur’s remarks on the Gandhi family sparked protests from the Opposition and the Lower House was adjourned four times before it finally resumed at 6 pm.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman speaking in Lok Sabha. (Photo: Screengrab @LSTV)

Meanwhile, The Salaries and Allowances of Ministers (Amendment) Bill, 2020 and Salary, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament (Amendment) Bill, 2020 were passed by voice vote in the Rajya Sabha on Friday. While several MPs supported the idea of salary deductions, they also sought the resumption of MPLAD funds to contain the impact of Covid-19.

Here are the top developments of the proceedings of Parliament on Day 5

Uproar in Lok Sabha over Anurag Thakur’s remarks on Nehru-Gandhi family

The Lok Sabha was adjourned four times amid din over remarks made by MoS Finance Anurag Thakur on the Gandhi family and the charitable trusts run by them.

During a discussion on the introduction of a Bill that dealt with certain relaxations given to the PM Cares Fund, Thakur said that the Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) was established in 1948 by Jawaharlal Nehru to benefit one family. He alleged that the Gandhi family had cheated the nation by establishing various charitable trusts which were used for “personal benefit”.

The Congress objected to the names of Nehru and Sonia Gandhi being taken in this context and protested with sloganeering. Leader of the party in the house Adhir Ranjan Chowdhary retorted with the accusation that the PM Cares Fund received donations from Chinese companies such as Tik Tok.

MoS Finance Anurag Thakur and Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury. (Photo: Screengrab: LSTV)

As Sitharaman sought to introduce the Taxation and Other Laws, Relaxation of Certain Provisions Bill, 2020, Congress and TMC members raised objections to its introduction on the ground that it sought to bring PM Cares Fund under the same laws that governed the PMNRF. To this Thakur said, “Some members have raised questions on PM Cares Fund. …In 1948, the then PM Jawaharlal Nehru ordered the establishment of PM National Relief Fund but it hasn’t been registered yet. How did it get FCRA registration? How did you give it tax exemption when even the Trust is not registered. You made that Trust for just one family, the Gandhi family. This fund (PM Cares) is for the 138 crore people of this country. PMNRF had Sonia Gandhi and Nehru as its members. This should be discussed in detail. The nation must see your real face.”

Earlier, Congress leaders Shashi Tharoor, Manish Tewari and Chowdhary had opposed the introduction of the Bill.

The impasse finally ended with Thakur expressing anguish over his remarks. He said that he didn’t intend to hurt anyone with his words and added that he was pained if his words hurt anybody in the House.

Parliament passes bills to cut salaries of MPs, ministers by 30 per cent

Parliament passed a bill to cut the salaries of MPs by 30 per cent one year to meet the exigencies due to Covid pandemic. Rajya Sabha passed the Salary, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which had already got the approval of Lok Sabha on Tuesday. The bill was introduced in the Upper House by Parliamentary Affairs Pralhad Joshi on Thursday.

Bills on central councils for homoeopathy, Indian medicines get RS nod

The Rajya Sabha approved two bills, replacing ordinances related to the Central Council of Homoeopathy and the Indian Medicine Central Council. The Homoeopathy Central Council (Amendment) Bill, 2020 seeks to extend the time to form the Central Council of Homeopathy by a year, after exhausting two years for the purpose. The Indian Medicine Central Council (Amendment) Bill, 2020 seeks a year’s time to reconstitute the central council and provides for a board of directors to use its powers in the interim period.

The Congress slammed the government for the “inordinate” delay in constituting the Central Council of Homoeopathy. They alleged that the government is taking away the autonomy of such autonomous bodies, as it has done in the past with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) and the University Grants Commission (UGC).  Congress leader Ripun Bora asked, “Why is the government taking three years’ time to constitute the Central Council of Homoeopathy? Why is there a deliberate and inordinate delay in setting up the council?”

Replying to a debate on the two bills, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said the central government is committed to providing affordable and easy health facilities to the citizens of the country. He also defended the government’s decision to bring ordinances, saying there was nothing “abnormal” and that governments have been taking this route, depending on their necessity.

Covid: Various measures taken to ensure availability of essential drugs, says govt

Parliament was informed that the government has taken “timely and effective” measures to handle the possible disruptions in supply of essential drugs during the pandemic situation and ensured their uninterrupted availability across the country.

“The Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP) has taken various measures to ensure the availability of essential drugs at reasonable prices during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Minister of Chemicals and Fertilizers D V Sadananda Gowda replied to a question in the Rajya Sabha. Gowda said a ‘control room’ has been set up with a helpline number and “issues like non-availability of medicines, masks, gloves, hand sanitisers etc”, and price violation in the case of these essential items were resolved promptly.

Centre released over Rs 3,024 cr under Nirbhaya fund to states/UTs: WCD ministry

The Centre has released over Rs 3,024 crore under the Nirbhaya fund, out of which the states have utilised around Rs 1,919 crore, the Women and Child Development (WCD) Ministry said Friday. The Nirbhaya fund was set up in 2013 by the UPA government to improve the safety and security situation of women in the aftermath of the brutal gangrape of a 23-year-old paramedic student in December, 2012, in a moving bus in Delhi. Responding to a question in the Lok Sabha, WCD Minister Smriti Irani gave out state-wise data of release and utilization of the Nirbhaya fund.

3 vaccine candidates in advanced stage of clinical trials: Harsh Vardhan

Three of the nearly 30 Covid-19 vaccine candidates in the country are in advanced stages of clinical trials, while four are in pre-clinical development stage, Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said Friday. A high-level expert group is looking into matters related to vaccine distribution and immunisation, he added. “Nationally, nearly 30 vaccine candidates are under development, by both industry and academia. These vaccines are in different stages of pre-clinical and clinical development of which three candidates are in advanced stage of Phase I/II/III trials and four are in advanced pre-clinical development stage,” Vardhan said in a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha.

With PTI inputs

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