The second sitting of the Budget Session of Parliament is coming to a premature conclusion due to the combined impact of the assembly elections in four states and a Union territory and the worrisome spurt in COVID-19 infections in the country.
According to senior members of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, the Budget Session is likely to be adjourned sine die before the week-end. Members of various political parties have requested the curtailment of the session as they want to be in their hometowns during the Holi festival next week even though celebrations have been restricted in many states.
The second part of the Budget Session that began on March 8 was scheduled to end on April 8. The first part of the Budget Session that started with the President’s address to the joint session of Parliament on January 29, concluded on February 15 after presentation of the Union Budget.
The second part of the Budget Session is being concluded roughly two weeks ahead of schedule. Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and Rajya Sabha Chairman Venkiah Naidu are actively considering pleas from MPs representing various parties including the Trinamool Congress, Left Parties, Congress and the DMK.
Birla is currently recovering from COVID-19 and all the details about the pending agenda of the lower house have been provided to him, highly-placed government sources told The Federal. Similarly, Rajya Sabha chairman Venkiah Naidu has also called for clearance of all important government agenda including the Finance Bill.
On Wednesday, the Rajya Sabha started its sitting at 10am, an hour ahead of the usual time, to enable discussion and approval of the Finance Bill and to see that the controversial National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill of 2021 is discussed. However, the Upper House had to be adjourned for an hour due to the untimely demise of sitting AIADMK member A Mohammedjan. The House was briefly adjourned after offering condolences to the Rajya Sabha MP who died of heart attack at his hometown.
Thereafter, Venkiah Naidu announced that the Rajya Sabha will sit late to discuss the Finance Bill, the National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill of 2021 and other important legislations proposed by the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs.
The Lok Sabha has already approved Finance Bill of 2021 in Lok Sabha on Tuesday and National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill of 2021 has also been passed in the lower house. Both houses have also discussed the budget allocation and performance of various ministries and departments including health, railways and Jal Shakti.
Although the initial days of the second sitting of the Budget Session witnessed disruptions due to sloganeering by Opposition against rise in fuel prices and over the farm bills, both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha have been functioning smoothly to take up Budget-related discussions. The bill to hike Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the insurance sector to 74 per cent from the existing level of 49 per cent as announced in this year’s Budget, has also been approved by both Houses.
When the National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Bill of 2021 was to be taken up in Rajya Sabha on Tuesday, the Upper House witnessed noisy disruptions that led to a series of adjournments. The Aam Aadmi Party has been staunchly opposing the bill, accusing the Narendra Modi government of clipping the wings of Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. Several opposition parties including the Congress, Left parties, Trinamool Congress have backed Kejriwal’s party.
The Devendrakula Velalar Bill or The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order (Amendment) Bill of 2021 that is of significance to Tamil Nadu has also been approved by both houses of Parliament. The Bill intends to group seven castes in the scheduled caste list under one head of Devendrakula Velalar as desired by these communities. Devendrakulathan, Kadaiyan, Kalladi, Kudumban, Pallan, Pannadi and Vathiriyan castes will now become sub-groups of Devendrakula Velalar in the scheduled caste list of Tamil Nadu.
Coming ahead of the assembly elections in Tamil Nadu, the amendment is considered politically significant and Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also stressed it while speaking in Tamil Nadu. The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order (Amendment) Bill of 2021 was approved by Lok Sabha on March 19 and Rajya Sabha on March 22.
The Vote-on-Account for Puducherry for the year 2021-22 has also been approved by both Houses of Parliament as the V Narayanasamy government in the Union Territory collapsed just weeks before the assembly election. Since the full-fledged Budget for 2021-22 can be tabled in the state assembly only after a new government is formed in Puducherry after the assembly polls scheduled on April 6, the Vote-on-Account enables expenditure for elections and salary to government employees in the interim.
Attendance of MPs has been thin in both the Houses during the second part of the Budget Session due to the hectic campaigning going on in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry, Kerala and Assam. With many senior MPs missing in action, juniors from major parties have been shouldering the responsibility of participating in important discussions including the storm over Sachin Vaze controversy in Maharashtra. Interestingly, Om Birla and Venkiah Naidu decided at the beginning of the second part of the Budget Session to do away with the COVID-19 social distancing norms that necessitated one house sitting in the morning session and the other in the evening. However, other COVID-19 restrictions in Parliament continue and may not be done away soon since the infections are increasing once again.