Rajya Sabha, or the Upper House of Indian Parliament, will hold the first structured debate on Covid-19 pandemic on Wednesday, setting the stage for fierce criticism of the government from united Opposition.
After months of scathing commentary on the government’s management of Covid-19 situation, the Opposition will debate the issue, but it is still unclear how much time would be allotted for the debate.
But the government, too, will get ample chance to put forward its defence and hail its success in keeping the Covid-19 death rate lowest among major nations. Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu has decided to combine the clarifications on the health minister’s statement with a debate on Covid-19.
The Congress has demanded a separate, full-fledged discussion on the most important issue that has played havoc with Indian economy and livelihood of millions of Indians and plummeting the first quarterly GDP to -23.8%.
Congress chief whip Jairam Ramesh wrote to Naidu on Tuesday, saying, “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 4 hour debate on Covid-19, Ramesh said, “In the BAC (panel to decide the House business) 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 Upper House has listed The Institute of Teaching and Research in Ayurveda Bill, 2020 and The Salaries and Allowances of Ministers (Amendment) Bill, 2020 for passage on Wednesday.
In the Lok Sabha, fireworks are expected 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 are vehemently opposed to all three bills which would replace related ordinances even as many experts have hailed the farm bills as reformist legislation 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.
Congress governments in Punjab and its Haryana state unit have raised major objections and claimed these states have already started facing farmer protests against the new laws.
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. “If the ordinance becomes law, all key financial intermediaries will come under the control of the Central Government, there will be more centralisation. Congress Party stands for decentralisation and for empowering states,” the party said in a statement last week.