Govt, opposition strike temporary truce in Parliament

Venkaiah Naidu meets Congress leaders; RS passes two bills, but GST bill is not part of negotiations for now

The Upper House of Parliament has seen disruptions on several contentious political matters. 

Photo: PTI
The Upper House of Parliament has seen disruptions on several contentious political matters. Photo: PTI

New Delhi: The government and opposition benches struck a temporary truce on Thursday, shelving their political differences to enable the Rajya Sabha to vote through two bills and press on with its lawmaking work.

Progress on Parliament’s legislative agenda came about after parliamentary affairs minister M. Venkaiah Naidu met senior Congress party leaders to persuade them to allow bills to be taken up in the Upper House, which has seen disruptions on several contentious political matters.

“It is like a temporary peace deal between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress. The parliamentary affairs minister had met Congress leaders to try and negotiate passage of some bills in the Upper House. Even though both sides are adamant to have discussions on the AgustaWestland helicopter deal and the political crisis in Uttarakhand, the government wants legislative business to carry on for now,” said a senior minister in the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), who is part of legislative negotiations.

However, the crucial constitutional amendment bill to allow a goods and services tax (GST) to be rolled out has been kept out of these negotiations for now.

After senior leaders of the NDA met senior Congress leaders during Thursday, the Rajya Sabha passed two bills—the Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order (Amendment) Bill, 2016 and the The Industries (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2015.

“The Rajya Sabha functioned on Wednesday because there was discussion on the water crisis, drought and heat wave conditions. Again on Thursday, Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was taken up and passed. The issues related to water crisis and scheduled caste (SC) are like holy cows which will not be opposed by any political parties. We have also tried to explain to Congress leaders that they can continue to try and corner the government on Uttarakhand and also on AgustaWestland but at least let the house function,” said a senior NDA leader, who spoke to Congress leaders.

The Appropriation Acts (Repeal) Bill, 2015 and the Repealing and Amending (Third) Bill, 2015 were also passed by Rajya Sabha on Wednesday while negotiations continued between the two sides.

“The Congress doesn’t want to stop legislative business in the house, but we have not got a satisfactory reply from the government on the issues raised in both Houses, especially on the political crisis in Uttarakhand,” said a senior Congress leader from Rajya Sabha.

Even as negotiations between the two sides continued through the day, the AgustaWestland helicopter deal again sparked acrimony in Parliament as the ruling BJP tried to use the issue to corner the Congress. This triggered protests in the first half of proceedings in both Houses of Parliament.

BJP’s Subramanian Swamy, who took his oath in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, made some controversial remarks, which were expunged by deputy chairman P.J. Kurien. The deputy chairman of Rajya Sabha also warned Swamy of action for needlessly provoking opposition members. Interestingly, senior ministers of the NDA also spoke to Swamy asking him not to provoke the opposition.

The Milan court of Appeals, in its 8 April judgement, said that the contract between AgustaWestland and India for the supply of 12 VVIP helicopters involved payoffs to Indian officials and found two executives of the Anglo-Italian company guilty of offering bribes. The court said that it found reasonable evidence that corruption took place in the Rs.3,600 crore helicopter deal from 2010.

Political analysts said that it is the government’s responsibility to break the impasse.

“It is the government’s responsibility to break the impasse. What happens in their closed door meeting is different. What it looks like is that they are provoking each other rather than (ending the) stalemate. Unless the Prime Minister intervenes, I don’t think it will be solved,” said N. Bhaskara Rao, a New Delhi-based political analyst.

The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order (Amendment) Bill, 2016 passed by the Rajya Sabha on Thursday seeks to include certain castes in the SC list, including Sais and Aheria in Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Kerala, Odisha and West Bengal.

The Industries (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2015 seeks to ensure that the industries engaged in the manufacture of alcohol meant for human consumption shall be under the control of states. The bill aims to give clarity on what is within the power of the central government and the state government.