Rajya Sabha to debate COVID situation, govt to make clarification on pandemic

Congress wants a separate four-hour discussion that should include pandemic’s impact on the economy; govt yet to respond

Rajya Sabha
The Opposition has been demanding a discussion on the COVID-19 pandemic and its management by the government in Parliament | Fie Photo

The Rajya Sabha will on Wednesday (September 16) debate the COVID-19 situation in the country. Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu has decided to combine the clarifications on the health minister’s statement with a debate on the pandemic.

However, it is still unclear how much time would be allotted for the debate. The Congress has demanded “at least a four-hour debate.”

The party has also demanded a separate discussion on the impact of the lockdown and the government response to the pandemic on the economic front. The Indian economy has for the first time contracted at a record level with the first quarterly GDP plummeting to -23.8%.

Congress chief whip Jairam Ramesh wrote to Naidu on Tuesday and justified such a discussion. “If we cannot have a full-fledged discussion on the COVID-19 situation without being circumscribed by the minister’s statement, what is the point of having this session of Rajya Sabha in the first place?”

He also reminded Naidu that the decision to combine the debate with clarifications on the minister’s statement “runs contrary to what V Muraleedharan (junior minister for parliamentary affairs) had assured me this morning that the two will be taken up separately.”

Demanding a minimum four-hour debate on Covid-19, Ramesh said, “In the BAC (Business Advisory Committee of the House) held on September 13, you yourself had said that it is very important to have a discussion on the prevailing public health situation. Today’s decision of yours goes against the spirit of your own statement.”

The Lok Sabha is set to witness a storm on Wednesday as the government has listed three contentious bills for passage: The Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill, 2020, The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020 and The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020.

The Congress and other opposition parties have strongly opposed all the three bills which would replace ordinances. Many experts have, though, hailed the farm bills as reformist that would unshackle Indian farmers.

At least three senior Congress leaders maintain that the move will only help corporate buyers of crops and weaken India’s MSP and other safety net for farmers.

Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh has said the state will oppose “tooth and nail” the Centre’s “so-called agriculture reforms”. Amarinder has said doing away with the Minimum Support Price (MSP) regime will hurt the interests of farmers.

Left parties have staged protests both inside and outside the Parliament complex and it, too, would oppose the bills.

The Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill 2020 is another flashpoint. The Congress has already raised five major objections. They said cooperative banks are part of the structure of cooperatives and ought to be regulated by the state governments, not by the Centre.

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