New Delhi: The anti-graft Lokpal Bill will lead a series of legislations that the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government plans to introduce in the monsoon session of Parliament that starts Monday and runs for about a month.
This is despite the likelihood that the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies in National Democratic Alliance (NDA) will attack the UPA government aggressively over corruption, high inflation and policy paralysis.
The BJP has been emboldened by having gained the moral upper hand with Karnataka chief minister B.S. Yeddyurappa having agreed to quit following his indictment by the Lokayukta, the anti-corruption watchdog, in illegal mining.
The opposition will also back agitating lawmakers from Andhra Pradesh demanding a separate Telangana state. Eleven members of Parliament belonging to the Telangana region, including those from Congress, have submitted their resignation protesting against the delay in creating a separate state.
The government said it has a heavy legislative agenda for the session that is expected to conclude on 8 September.
The prospects of the UPA’s four key economic reform-oriented legislations are uncertain as parliamentary standing committees are yet to submit their report on them. These are the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill to unify multiple taxes; the Direct Taxes Code to reform income tax laws; the Insurance Amendment Bill 2008 to raise the foreign direct investment limit in insurance companies to 49% from 26%; and the Pension Fund Regulatory Development Authority (PFRDA) Bill to give statutory powers to the regulator.
The government maintained that due process will have to be followed. “When we introduce bills, the government hopes and wants that the Bills should be passed as early as possible. But these Bills are now with standing committees and they have to study and submit the report,” said P.K. Bansal, parliamentary affairs minister.
Apart from the Lokpal Bill, which is expected to be introduced in the first three days of the session, the government has listed 37 bills for consideration and passage and 32 for fresh introduction. These include legislation to regulate mining in the country, which provides for the sharing of profits with displaced locals through the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Bill; the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, which aims to boost payouts to farmers whose land is taken over for industrial and infrastructure projects; and the National Food Security Bill that seeks to provide foodgrain at a subsidized rates to the poor.
The much-awaited women’s reservation Bill, seeking a 33% quota for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies, is also listed for consideration. However, Bansal admitted that the government has not been able to evolve a consensus among the political parties to push through the legislation that was passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2010.
Despite the BJP’s intention to confront the government, the functioning of Parliament may still be smooth.
“We will aggressively attack the Prime Minister, home minister and the government. Also, we will intensify our attack against corruption,” said a senior BJP leader, who did not want to be identified.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and home minister P. Chidambaram have been criticized for alleged inaction that led to irregularities in the allocation of second generation (2G) telecom spectrum.
The 2G scam and other corruption charges have been haunting the Singh-led government, with critics alleging that the Prime Minister’s failure in handling the corruption allegations and high inflation have led to policy paralysis in the country, affecting the investment climate adversely.
The winter session of Parliament had been disrupted throughout by opposition protests, without any business being transacted. The government couldn’t push through any key legislations in the budget session, which was cut short due to elections in five states. The opposition may prefer debates to disruption, said B.G. Verghese, political analyst and visiting professor, Centre for Policy Research.
“The opposition cannot just disrupt the proceedings to attack the government. They may prefer attacking the prime minister and the others during debates. Otherwise, they will be found guilty of halting the governance process,” Verghese said. “With the economy in trouble, the country cannot afford policy paralysis now.”
The Indian economy, which grew at 8.5% last year, is showing signs of a slowdown. Analysts say Singh’s government needs to usher in a second generation of reforms to build on growth unleashed by liberalization of the economy two decades ago. The ruling Congress is optimistic. “We have a precious session of Parliament of over five weeks and we have 81 Bills pending. At least 30% of them are of a certain degree of urgency. Please do not agree (with the government on all issues) but get some legislative work done,” Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said in a comment directed at the opposition.
Anuja and Ruhi Tewari of Mint and Reuters contributed to this story.