|The budget session of India’s Parliament, which began Monday, is likely to mean more tough times for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh after his Congress party was whipped at the polls in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Goa in the recently-concluded assembly elections.
The first part of the almost three-month session will focus on financial business as the government will present the budget for the year ending March 31, 2013.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee will unveil the government’s revenue and spending plans Friday, while the railways budget will be presented on Wednesday. On Thursday, the government will present its economic survey — a document on the state of economy prepared by the Finance Ministry’s economic division.
The government is also hoping to pass some key pending legislation like the “Lokpal” Bill, which proposes setting up an independent ombudsman at the national level with parallel anti-graft agencies in states with powers to prosecute politicians and civil servants suspected of graft. It also wants to pass the Whistleblower’s Bill, which would provide protection to people making disclosures. But the scope for controversial laws such as these seems to be narrowing almost daily.
Both bills were cleared in the lower house during last session but failed to get passed in the upper chamber of Parliament after being blocked by a ruling coalition partner, the Trinamool Congress. It also torpedoed a number of government initiatives last year such as allowing foreign investment in multi-brand retail.
Chintamani Mahapatra, professor of political science at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, predicted “rough weather ahead” for the Congress-led national government as it was likely “to witness heated debates” over several issues like an expected hike in fuel prices, a recent ban on cotton exports that was soon reversed, and the on-hold formation of a National Counter-Terrorism Centre.
Many opposition parties like the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and the leftist Communist Party of India and some government allies like the Trinamool Congress have slammed the NCTC as an effort by the government to usurp the powers of states.
V. Narayanasamy, junior parliamentary affairs minister, said Monday the government will consult its allies on all issues in Parliament. In the past, the government has been strongly criticized by its coalition partners for introducing significant new measures without due consultation.
“We have to carry our allies together on all major issues as our numbers are 208 and for passing any bill we need their support,” he said on television news channels Monday, referring to Congress’s seats in the 543-member lower house.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also predicted the budget session would run smoothly.
“I think dealing with pressure is part of the parliamentary life. I am confident we have all the numbers that are needed,” Mr. Singh told reporters outside Parliament Monday.
“We are willing to discuss and debate all issues on the floor of the house,” he said.
In an opinion piece published in the Indian Express Monday, M.R. Madhavan, head of research at PRS Legislative Research, a think-tank based in New Delhi, said there was a large amount of pending business in Parliament. In the past year, Parliament achieved almost nothing because of the combination of frequent walk-outs by the BJP and the government’s inability to persuade allies to back much of its legislative agenda.
“The 15th Lok Sabha, half-way through its term, has lost 30% of scheduled time – the worst ever. As a result, many key bills have been pending. It is important that Parliament find time in this session to deliberate on some of these bills,” the piece said.
The budget session, which usually begins in the third week of February, was delayed due to recently concluded assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Manipur and Goa.
The first part of the Parliamentary session will conclude March 30 and resume on April 24 after a three-week break. The session is likely to end on May 22.