Monsoon Session: Opposition, Union Govt Likely to Face Off on Pandemic, Economic Issues

This is the first session of Parliament that will take place in the backdrop of the devastating second wave of the pandemic.

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New Delhi: The 18-day-long monsoon session of Parliament is all set to begin from Monday. Opposition parties and the Union government are likely to have a face-off on issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the state of the economy, particularly concerns over price rise.

According to opposition leaders, some of the other key issues that could be raised by them for discussion in this session is the recent formation of the Ministry of Cooperation, contentious proposals by the Lakshadweep administration, the Supreme Court’s recent observations on the sedition law and the continuing long-drawn farmers’ protest.

On its part, the Union government has a comprehensive legislative agenda for the session, listing at least 17 Bills for discussion in this session. Out of this, three seek to replace ordinances and could be a key bone of contention, with some opposition parties including the Congress expected to raise certain objections related to them.

Among some of the key Bills that will be taken up for consideration and passage in this session are The Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2021, The Petroleum and Minerals Pipelines (Amendment) Bill, 2021 and The Electricity (Amendment) Bill, 2021, among others.

To ensure smooth running of the session, the Union government has convened an all-party meeting on Sunday. According to a news report by the Press Trust of India, parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi has invited leaders of political parties for the meeting in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi is likely to be present.

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Earlier this week, the key opposition party, Congress too, held a meeting of its top leaders chaired by party chief Sonia Gandhi to discuss the upcoming session. Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, former finance minister and senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram said that “a full discussion on inflation will be at the top of the agenda” of the opposition parties.

This is the first session of Parliament that will take place in the backdrop of the devastating second wave of the pandemic. India has started an ambitious vaccination programme against COVID-19 – an issue that is likely to be prominently discussed in the session according to senior opposition leaders.

“The issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic were mismanaged by the Union government. Several experts had cautioned but no heed was paid. The state of the economy is known to everyone and people are suffering because of petrol and diesel prices. We will raise these issues in the monsoon session and will lend a voice to people’s concerns,” said Shaktisinh Gohil, spokesperson of the Congress party and also a Rajya Sabha member.

Lawmakers of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (DMK), the second largest opposition party in the Lok Sabha after the Congress, will meet on Friday evening to discuss what are the key issues that it will take up in the monsoon session, according to a senior leader of the party.

The Left parties are likely to put a request for a discussion on the ongoing farmers’ protest over the three key farm-related bills that were passed by the Parliament last year. They could also reiterate their demand for a direct cash transfer for the economically weaker sections impacted by the pandemic, said Elamaram Kareem senior leader and Rajya Sabha member from Communist Party of India (Marxist).

“There are a lot of issues that we plan to raise. For instance, there is a controversy over the Electricity Amendment Bill – we will oppose that. We also want to discuss the new Ministry of Cooperation as we feel it will affect well-developed cooperative systems particularly in states like Kerala and Maharashtra. There should also be a discussion on the vaccine programme and pandemic-related economic package for the poor,” Kareem said.

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Facing criticism from opposition parties over the handling of the pandemic and its impact on lives and livelihoods, senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders have maintained that several Union government schemes under the Aatmanirbhar package last year, including the Aatma Nirbhar Bharat Rozgar Yojana, are aimed at reviving the economy and generating jobs.

“Opposition needs to be more responsible in their behaviour and conduct and they should focus on playing constructive politics. World is passing through a very, very difficult times due to the pandemic and the least expected from the opposition bench is to work shoulder to shoulder with the government to make the session extremely productive,” said Syed Zafar Islam, national spokesperson of the BJP and member of the Rajya Sabha.

“They must know that the Union government is using all its resources efficiently by taking care of the needs of marginalised sections of the society, besides announcing the Atmanirbhar package at regular intervals to spur economic activities and for job creations,” he added.

The senior BJP leader also added that the Union government is providing various packages to ensure that both lives and livelihoods are protected and that there was ‘no point in politicising issues’ by the opposition.

Interestingly, for the Union government, there are several changes in this session. It is the first one that will take place after the recent cabinet reshuffle, which inducted 36 new faces, lending a change in treasury benches in both Houses of Parliament. It is also the first session where Union minister Piyush Goyal will serve as the leader of the House in the Rajya Sabha, succeeding Thawar Chand Gehlot who has been appointed as the governor of Karnataka.

In the monsoon session, three Bills listed are going to replace ordinances issued in the past. This includes The Essential Defence Service Bill, 2021, The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Bill, 2021 and The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Bill, 2021 – all of which will replace ordinances brought in earlier.

Gohil said that opposition parties like the Congress are likely to raise concerns over the choice of the ordinance route. He added that he has moved a disapproval of ordinance notice ahead of the session. An ordinance has to be passed as a Bill within 42 days or six weeks from the beginning of a Parliament session, or else it lapses.

Anuja is an independent journalist based in New Delhi who reports on the intersection of policy and politics. She can be reached at @just_anuja.