Opposition to Corner Government in Parliament but Prospects of Thaw on GST

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu addresses the all-party meeting while Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Congress Leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Ghulam Nabi Azad look at, on the eve of the winter session at Parliament House in New Delhi on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

Parliamentary Affairs Minister Venkaiah Naidu addresses the all-party meeting while Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, Congress Leaders Mallikarjun Kharge and Ghulam Nabi Azad look on, on the eve of the winter session at Parliament House in New Delhi on Wednesday. Credit: PTI

New Delhi: A united opposition is set to corner the government over the issue of intolerance in the winter session of parliament beginning tomorrow but the prospects of a thaw on the crucial GST bill brightened with both sides expressing preparedness for discussing it.

The opposition is likely to press for a resolution to condemn what it says is a rise in intolerance, a demand unlikely to be conceded by the government which instead prefers a debate, seeking to project incidents like the Dadri lynching as “law and order issues” pertaining to states alone.

Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said though the government does not agree with the perception of rising intolerance, “we are willing to go along with the opposition in this regard for a discussion in an appropriate manner, if you desire.”

The government “does not support or condone” such incidents and is aware of the opposition’s concerns on “unfortunate incidents like Dadri and the killing of MM Kalburgi”, he said.

However, on the GST bill, both sides talked about the need for discussions to thrash out issues on some of the contentious clauses.

Setting the tone, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to the opposition for cooperation as he made a strong pitch for early passage of the GST bill at the all party-meet convened by Naidu, saying it will be in the interest of the nation.

He told the opposition leaders that Finance Minister Arun Jaitley will hold discussions with them on their concerns.

The Congress, on the other side, said it was open for discussions on the GST bill on which it has “very genuine concerns”.

“We are open for discussions. Let us see how far they go ahead,” the leader of opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad said.

Holding that a number of things have been going on in the country since the government and the opposition met last in the monsoon session, Azad insisted that those points have to also be accommodated and that there has to be discussion on intolerance, price rise, the plight of farmers, the flood situation and a number of other issues.

“We have made our views very clear to the government that we are in favour of transacting the business provided our genuine demands and concerns which are concerning the people of the country are taken on board,” the Congress leader said.

Assuring opposition members on this count, Naidu said, “the government is ready to discuss all issues including that of the so-called intolerance though it falls in the domain of states. We do not support or condone such incidents. We have nothing to hide. We are ready for a debate on intolerance. The government has nothing to feel shy about it. Even about the so-called intolerance, we are prepared to have a debate.”

On the crucial GST issue, Naidu said that the government has decided to have a dialogue with the Congress. “It will address the concerns of the opposition on the GST and other bills,” he said after the NDA meet.

Modi, who attended the all-party meeting briefly, said parliament should run constructively to fulfil the people’s expectations.

Briefing media persons later, Naidu said the meet was held in a very cordial and meaningful way, raising the prospects of a productive Winter session.

Naidu said that during the two-sitting special session beginning tomorrow, the Vice-President and Lok Sabha Speaker will make opening remarks in the Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha respectively, following which Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who is also the deputy leader of the House, will initiate the discussion in the Lower House while Finance Minister Jaitley, who is leader of the Upper House would do so in Rajya Sabha.

The Prime Minister will intervene towards the end of the discussion in both Houses, he said.

Issues for discussion suggested by different parties include: the drought and heavy rains in different parts of the country; agrarian distress, declining industrial production and exports, Centre-state relations including extending financial support to states, the Nepal issue, Women’s reservation, striking down of National Judicial Appointments Commission Bill etc.

Giving details of the government business for the winter session, Naidu said that in consultation with various ministries, 38 items have been identified of which 22 items have been prioritised.

NDA coordination

At the NDA meeting, the Prime Minister asked Naidu to evolve a mechanism for having meetings of the BJP-led coalition every two months.

NDA leaders also resolved to strengthen urban local bodies and Modi said a system in the Centre as well states should be put in place.

BJP allies have in the past often called for more regular meetings of the NDA.

Shiromani Akali Dal leaders pitched for an amendment in the SGPC Act and Home Minister Rajnath Singh assured them of looking into it.

Bills scheduled

The listed legislative business includes bills replacing ordinances including the Negotiable Instruments (Amendment) Ordinance, the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Ordinance, the Commercial Courts, Commercial Division and Commercial Appellate Division of High Courts Ordinance.

Besides, there are bills passed by one House and pending in the other – including the crucial GST bill (the Constitution (122nd Amendment) Bill, 2014 regarding introduction of GST), as passed by the Lok Sabha.

The new bills for introduction are:

  • Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Amendment Bill, 2014
  • Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013
  • Whistle Blowers Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2015
  • Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Amendment Bill, 2015
  • High Court and the Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill 2015
  • Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill, 2013
  • Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2012
  • Anti-Hijacking Bill.
  • Payment of Bonus (Amendment) Bill, 2015
  • Industries (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill 2015
  • Agricultural Bio-Security Bill, 2015
  • National Cooperative Development Corporation (Amendment) Bill, 2015
  • Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, 2015
  • Regional Centre for Bio-technology Bill,2015
  • Indian Institute of Management Bill, 2015

With the last session getting washed out, Naidu said, “we need to leave memories of the monsoon session behind and together move forward.”

In an indication of what the parliament session will begin with, Azad noted that the government is starting the session with a discussion on the Constitution of India.

“If you read the preamble of Constitution of India that starts with Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Practice. So they have to see in the discussion and in that context also whether we are going to make our commitment to Constitution or not,” he said.

To a question, Azad said the Congress has not given up the demand for the resignation of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje in the Lalit Modi controversy.

He said that in the all-party meeting, he confronted Jaitley with his two reported statements on the issue of the Congress stand on the GST.

While one statement spoke of government planning to reach out to the opposition, the other dismissed Congress objections as “preposterous”, Azad said, adding that the government then said the issue would be discussed with them.

After the all-party meeting held by the Speaker, the leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge said that more time should be given for the debate on the Constitution.

“We will raise our issues Monday onwards after giving notices,” he told reporters after the meet.