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Sunday, October 25, 2020

Parliament wrap: From vexed farm bills to China border row, here’s how Covid-hit monsoon session unfolded

Here's a quick recap of top developments that took place in Parliament over the last 10 days. 

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi | Updated: September 23, 2020 8:55:12 pm
Clockwise from top left: Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu, Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, Rajya Sabha deputy chairman Harivansh, Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Source: PTI/Lok Sabha)

The monsoon session of Parliament was cut short Wednesday with both Houses—Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha—adjourning sine die after more than 30 MPs including Union Ministers Nitin Gadkari and Prahlad Patel tested Covid positive over the last week. The session, which began September 14 with several firsts and unprecedented protocols for Covid spread, was scheduled to end on October 1. Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu said the House could only hold 10 sittings as opposed to the scheduled 18. Calling the 10-day session as productive, Naidu said as many as 25 bills were passed and six were introduced.

READ: All legislations passed in Parliament’s Covid-hit monsoon session

From passing contentious farm bills to the government making a statement on the tense border situation with China, Parliament witnessed a tumultuous session with opposition members boycotting the proceedings in the Upper House after eight members were suspended.

Here’s a quick recap of top developments that took place in Parliament over the last 10 days. 

Rajnath in Lok Sabha: Pullback, peace if China sticks to Jaishankar-Wang pact

Last week, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh acknowledged that “we are facing a challenge in Ladakh” where “the violent conduct of Chinese forces has been in complete violation of all mutually agreed norms”. He told Lok Sabha that the Moscow agreement between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi “if implemented sincerely and faithfully by the Chinese side, could lead to complete disengagement and restoration of peace and tranquility in the border areas”.

Making a statement in Lok Sabha after the government, during a meeting of the Business Advisory Committee, turned down the Congress demand for a House discussion on the military standoff saying it is a sensitive issue, Singh said: “As of now, the Chinese side has mobilized a large number of troops and armaments along the LAC as well as in the depth areas. There are several friction areas in Eastern Ladakh including Gogra, Kongka La and North and South Banks of Pangong lake.”

rajnath singh, rajnath singh india china border, rajnath singh parliament, rajnath singh news, india china border row, rajnath singh china border row, rajnath singh lok sabha address, rajnath singh india china, parliament Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh addressing the Lok Sabha on the border tensions between India and China border (LSTV/PTI Photo)

He also told the House that “China continues to be in illegal occupation of approximately 38,000 sq km in the Union Territory of Ladakh. In addition, under the so-called Sino-Pakistan ‘Boundary Agreement’ of 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq km of Indian territory in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to China. China also claims approximately 90,000 sq km of Indian territory in the Eastern Sector of the India-China boundary in Arunachal Pradesh”.

Two days later, Singh made a similar statement in Rajya Sabha, underlining that there is a mismatch between what China says and does. He said that India will not back down from taking “any big and tough step” in its interest, and that there will be no change in the “traditional and well-defined” patrolling pattern of Indian soldiers along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh. “No power in the world can stop Indian soldiers from patrolling,” he said.

With all Opposition parties backing the government, the Congress, which had been demanding a full-fledged discussion on the issue, did not register any protest.

Protests over farm bills: Rajya Sabha ruckus, Opposition MPs suspended

On Sunday, Rajya Sabha saw unprecedented scenes of chaos, confusion, and ruckus as the government pushed through two contentious farm Bills while dismissing Opposition objections and pleas. Agitated Opposition members tore copies of the Bills, broke microphones on the Chairman’s table, flung a copy of the Rule Book at the presiding officer, and then sat on a dharna in the House even after it was adjourned for the day.

Never unsure of its numbers in the Upper House, and given that many Opposition members have cited health reasons to stay away, the government, using its numerical strength, rejected the Opposition demand to refer the Bills — The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, and The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 — to a select committee for parliamentary scrutiny. Already cleared by Lok Sabha, the Bills, passed by voice vote, will now go to the President for assent before becoming law.

ALSO READ: No question hour: Here’s what MPs wanted to ask in Parliament

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in a series of tweets after the passage of the Bills in Rajya Sabha, described it as “a watershed moment in the history of Indian agriculture”, the Opposition hit back, saying it was “historic for all the wrong reasons” given the manner in which the “anti-farmer” Bills were passed. Incidentally, fence sitters BJD and TRS too spoke against the Bills. While TRS opposed the Bill, the BJD joined the Opposition in demanding that they be referred to a select committee. The SAD, which broke ranks with the NDA over the Bills, too spoke against the legislation.

TMC MP Derek O’Brien attempts to tear the rule book as ruckus erupts in the Rajya Sabha over agriculture related bills on Sunday. (RSTV/PTI photo)

A day later, Rajya Sabha Chairman Naidu suspended eight MPs—Congress’s Rajeev Satav, Syed Naseer Hussain and Ripun Bora; Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien and Dola Sen; AAP’s Sanjay Singh; and CPI(M)’s K K Ragesh and Elamaram Kareem— “for the remaining part of the current session” on a motion brought in by the government citing “unruly behaviour”. The suspended MPs subsequently sat on a dharna in front of the Gandhi statue at Parliament, where they continued to protest through the night.

On Tuesday, the Opposition decided to boycott Rajya Sabha proceedings till the suspension of eight members is revoked. But the government insisted that the MPs should first “express regret”.

Harsimratkaur Badal quits Cabinet, says can’t be party to anti-farmer laws

Last week, Union Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, an MP of the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), one of the BJP’s oldest allies, resigned from the Narendra Modi Cabinet, publicly criticising the farm policy of the government.

The SAD made a dramatic announcement of her resignation in Lok Sabha following farmers protests in Punjab and Haryana.

Explained | Why 3 farm Bills 2020 have pushed Akali Dal to quit Modi cabinet

“The SAD cannot be a party to anything anti-farmer,” Harsimrat said in her four-page resignation letter to PM Modi. “My decision symbolises my party’s vision, its glorious legacy and its commitment to go to any extent to safeguard the interests of the farmers.”

Bid to assure: Govt increases MSP for six crops

Facing intensifying protests against its contentious farm Bills, the BJP-led government kickstarted a campaign to counter Opposition claims that the laws are “anti-farmer”. In the Lok Sabha Monday, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar announced an increase in Minimum Support Price (MSP) for six rabi crops. He said the decision proves the Government is committed to retaining the MSP mechanism and “clearing the lie” spread by the Opposition.

Oppn tears into govt over Covid management; BJP says stop politics

Opposition parties and ruling BJP last week crossed swords in Rajya Sabha while discussing on the Covid-19 pandemic. The Opposition slammed PM Modi for announcing a nationwide lockdown in March with just four hours’ notice and accused the Centre of not financially supporting state governments and leaving migrant workers in the lurch. They emphasised the need to strengthen the federal structure of governance, and accused the Centre of taking unilateral decisions.

Hitting back, BJP’s Vinay Sahasrabuddhe said Prime Minister Modi, Home Minister Amit Shah and other top bureaucrats held discussions with chief ministers at least 15 times since the lockdown began (on March 25). “But no chief minister has said that the lockdown should not have been imposed.”

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and others pay tribute to ex-President Pranab Mukherjee, legendary Indian classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj and others who passed away this year, during the opening day of Parliament’s Monsoon Session. (LSTV/PTI Photo)

Initiating the discussion, Congress deputy leader of House Anand Sharma questioned Health Minister Harsh Vardhan’s assertion in his statement in Parliament that early lockdown announced by Modi prevented 14 lakh to 29 lakh Covid cases, and 37,000 to 78,000 deaths.

Sharma asked: “How have you derived this figure? What is the scientific basis? The House must be informed (how) we have reached this conclusion (that) but for the sudden lockdown the number of cases would have gone up (by another) 29 lakh…. The day the lockdown was imposed, using emergency provisions under NDMA Act, we had 600 cases in India. As we discuss this subject (today), there are 50 lakh cases, and almost 82,000 deaths. This is the true picture.”

Rajya Sabha passes 7 key bills in three and half hours

On Tuesday, Rajya Sabha in a matter of three and half hours passed seven key bills including one that removes cereals, pulses and onion from the essential commodities list and another that abolishes penalty for certain offences by companies. This happened after most of the opposition including the Congress, Left parties, the TMC, the Samajwadi Party and the NCP decided to boycott House proceedings.

First, it passed a bill to declare five newly-established Indian Institutes of Information Technology (IIITs) as institutions of national importance. The crucial Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, which removes cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onion and potatoes from the list of essential commodities and removes stockholding limits on them, was passed next.

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman speaks in the Lok Sabha during the Monsoon Session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Monday, Sept. 21, 2020. (LSTV/PTI Photo)

Rajya Sabha also passed amendments to the Bank Regulation Act to bring cooperative banks under the supervision of the RBI in a bid to protect the interest of depositors.

Thereafter, the Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which removes the penalty for certain offences, was passed. The National Forensic Sciences University Bill, 2020 and the Rashtriya Rakash University Bill were passed in quick succession. Thereafter, the Taxation and Other Laws (Relaxation and Amendment of Certain Provisions) Bill, 2020 to relax time limit on compliance with tax laws, GST payment and filing in view of the coronavirus pandemic. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 as well as the Taxation and Other Laws (Relaxation and Amendment of Certain Provisions) Bill, 2020 replace emergency ordinances.

Govt sets up group under cyber security head to probe China Watching, will report in 30 days

Taking up the matter with the Chinese Ambassador, the Government last week set up an expert committee under the National Cyber Security Coordinator to study the revelations in China Watching, an investigation by The Indian Express, that a Shenzen-based company, with links to the Chinese government, is monitoring over 10,000 Indian individuals and entities.

The “targets,” as the ongoing investigation has revealed, include President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, key Opposition leaders and men and women from across a range of disciplines, politics, legislature, science and strategy to business, judiciary and the media.

Rajya Sabha passes three labour code bills amid Opposition boycott

Earlier in the day, Rajya Sabha approved the three labour codes on industrial relations, social security and occupational safety by voice vote amid a boycott of opposition parties.

Explained: In labour codes, what changes for workers and hirers?

While the government proposes to increase the ambit of social security by including gig workers and inter-state migrant workers, it has also proposed measures that will provide greater flexibility to employers to hire and fire workers without government permission.

Railway Minister tells Parliament: 97 people died on board Shramik trains

Ninety-seven passengers died on-board the Shramik Special trains that operated from May 1 to ferry migrant labourers back home, Railway Minister Piyush Goyal has told the Parliament.

This figure refers to those who specifically died on the trains. It was provided in response to a question by TMC Rajya Sabha MP Derek O’Brien. “Whether Railways has details of total number of deaths that occurred on board the Shramik Special trains since they started operating?” was O’Brien’s query.

“Based on the data provided by State Police, 97 persons have been reported dead till 09.09.2020 while travelling on board Shramik Special Trains…,” Goyal said in a written reply to Rajya Sabha.

Parliament passes FCRA Amendment Bill; govt says bill not against any NGO

Parliament Wednesday passed a bill to amend the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act to make furnishing of Aadhaar numbers by office bearers of NGOs mandatory for registration, with the government asserting that the proposed legislation is aimed at transparency and not against any NGO. The bill was passed amid Opposition boycott of Rajya Sabha proceedings.

Replying to a debate on the bill, Minister of State for Home Nityanand Rai said the legislation was not against any NGO and is an effort to maintain transparency.
This amendment is in the interest of good NGOs which want to do good work in the country.

ALSO READ: Bill to amend FCRA is an attempt by government to target critics: Oppn

He also said,”This is certainly a bill to bring transparency. It is not against NGOs in any case. But only those NGOs which do not adhere to transparency may feel bad. This bill is in the interest of NGOs and transparency.”

Oppn backs Bills for salary cuts of MPs, ministers; demands restoration of MPLADS

The Bills to slash salaries of MPs and Union Ministers were passed by Parliament last week with Rajya Sabha’s unanimous nod.

The two Bills, discussed together, were not opposed to by any party, but nearly every leader from opposition parties objected to stopping funds under the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS). They said MPLADS is not meant for personal use by MPs, but is for the people, and demanded that it be restored.

The House passed Salaries and Allowances of Ministers (Amendment) Bill, 2020 and Salary, Allowances and Pension of MPs (Amendment) Bill, 2020 together by a voice vote. The Bills allow a 30-per cent salary cut for MPs and Union ministers to help the battle against Covid-19.

Can talk to China, why not Pakistan, people are dying: Farooq Abdullah

Speaking in Parliament for the first time since his release from detention in Kashmir, National Conference leader and former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah Saturday caused a stir in the Treasury benches asking why New Delhi, which is holding discussions with China over the disengagement of troops, could not hold talks with Pakistan to resolve pending issues.

As some BJP MPs protested, Abdullah also asked, “Should we not have the same rights as the rest of the country?… If Hindustan is developing, should J&K not develop?… What if we are Muslims?”

New Delhi: National Conference President Farooq Abdullah at Parliament House during ongoing Monsoon Session, in New Delhi, Tuesday, Sept. 15, 2020. (PTI Photo)

While not mentioning Pakistan by name, Abdullah said, “Border skirmishes have been rising and people are dying… A way has to be found to deal with this… As you are talking to China to attempt that it withdraws (from the Ladakh border), we should also talk to our neighbour to find a way out of this situation.”

PM CARES: Cong forces Thakur apology after his remarks on Nehru-Gandhi family charities

Last week, Lok Sabha was adjourned four times amid ruckus over remarks made by Minister of State, Finance, Anurag Thakur on the Gandhi family and the charitable trusts run by them.

During a discussion following the introduction of a Bill dealing 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 also said that the Gandhi family had cheated the nation by establishing various charitable trusts which were used for “personal benefit”.

The House could finally resume only in the evening, after Speaker Om Birla suggested that Thakur address the members. In a statement, Thakur said, “I did not intend to hurt anyone. I am pained if my words hurt anybody.”

lok sabha, lok sabha news, anurag thakur, pm cares fund, adhir ranjan chowdhary, PMNRF, nirmala sitharaman Lok Sabha: MoS Finance Anurag Thakur and Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhary on the fifth day of Parliament’s monsoon session. (Source: YouTube Screengrab/Lok Sabha TV)

The war of words began soon after Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman introduced the Taxation and Other Laws, Relaxation of Certain Provisions Bill, 2020. The Congress and Trinamool Congress objected, saying the Bill sought to bring the PM CARES Fund under the same laws that govern the PMNRF.

Jaya defends Bollywood: ‘To divert attention, film industry being flogged on social media’

A day after BJP MP and Bhojpuri actor Ravi Kishan said there is a drug addiction problem in Bollywood, Samajwadi Party leader and veteran actor Jaya Bachchan hit back, saying some people are biting the hand that feeds them.

“Just because of a few people, you cannot tarnish the whole industry… I was really embarrassed and ashamed that yesterday one of our members in the Lok Sabha, who is from the industry, spoke against the film industry. Jis thaali mein khaate hain usi mein chhed karte hain (they are biting the hand that feeds them),” she said in Rajya Sabha, without naming Kishan.

Her statement came even as the Ministry of Home Affairs, in reply to a question, told Lok Sabha that it did not receive any actionable intelligence of a nexus between drug traffickers and the film industry during the lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Last week, Kishan had raised in Lok Sabha allegations of drug use in the film industry that surfaced during the investigation into the death of actor Sushant Singh Rajput.

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