Government keen to push anti-graft bills, opposition unlikely to play ball
The government has an ambitious agenda for the last session of the 15th Lok Sabha beginning Wednesday of passing Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi's pet anti-corruption bills and other pending legislation. However, the opposition seems to be in no mood to let the government score brownie points just before the elections.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hoped Tuesday that parliament in its wisdopm will pass the bills. Rahul Gandhi too is learnt to be planning to meet the opposition leaders.
The United Progressive Alliance government is keen to pass six pending anti-corruption bills despite likely disruptions over Telangana and the opposition's apparent desire not to hand over an election plank to the Congress ahead of the Lok Sabha elections.
Officials said 39 bills were on the agenda for the session including the women's reservation bill. The opposition has also spelled out its issues including the now cancelled VVIP chopper deal and price rise.
With Lok Sabha elections expected in April-May, the government is likely to make a strong push for passing the pending anti-graft legislation in an apparent bid to take political credit for this and shore up its image, battered by allegations of corruption levelled by opposition parties.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi has over the past two months been strongly pitching for passing these six anti-graft bills. The Congress had suffered heavy reverses in the assembly polls late last year and the party is making an apparent effort to reclaim the lost ground.
"The anti-corruption bills are a priority for the government. We will like them to be passed," Congress spokesperson Shobha Ojha told IANS.
Apart from the anti-corruption bills, the government is according "high priority" to the bill for creating a separate Telangana from Andhra Pradesh.
The government will also take a vote-on-account during the session, which will conclude Feb 21.
Pitching for the bills, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in Delhi Tuesday "I hope that parliament in its wisdom will be able to clear the Telangana bill.
There are many important bills...the anti-corruption bill, women's reservation bill and the communal violence bill. I sincerely hope that parliament in its wisdom will allow transaction of business in the House," he added.
Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Rajiv Shukla said that the opposition should cooperate with the government in getting the bills passed.
"We will try our level best to ensure the smooth functioning of the two houses," Shukla told IANS.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath Monday admitted that the 15th Lok Sabha had passed the least number of bills compared to previous houses which have lasted their full five-year terms.
According to PRS Legislative Research, a think tank that tracks parliament's work, there are 126 bills pending in the two houses.
"To its credit, the 15th Lok Sabha passed key rights-based legislation on universal education for children and food security. However, its performance as a deliberative institution has left a lot to be desired. With legislation taking a back seat and question hour getting disrupted, this Lok Sabha has not been able to do justice to the role that it was entrusted with," Chakshu Roy, head of outreach at PRS Legislative Research, told IANS.
The opposition parties are likely to seek answers during the session from the government on a host of issues, including price rise, problems faced by farmers and the slowing down of the economy.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party has indicated that the party will seek to put the government in the dock over the controversies surrounding the now cancelled deal with AgustaWestland to supply 12 helicopters for VVIP use.
The session is likely to witness protests from members of the Seemandhra region over the bill to create a separate Telangana. The two houses of Andhra Pradesh legislature had last month rejected the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Bill 2013.
While the government has to deal with the protests on the Telangana issue, the parties that are ruling states have shown their lack of enthusiasm for its legislative agenda.
The Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Janata Dal-United (JD-U) have suggested that the government should focus only on its financial agenda during the session.
Congress leaders said the opposition parties would not want the passage of the anti-corruption bills to deny credit to the government but the party will make strong efforts to get them passed. They said that the party would also talk to its MPs from Seemandhra region to address their concerns over Telangana and dissuade them from staging any protest.
BJP leaders said they will cooperate in passing the legislative agenda but the government should ensure orderly functioning of the houses.
Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Basudeb Acharia said that the party will raise the "issue of corruption and price rise" during the session.
Important bills for Winter session-II
Thirty-nine bills are on the government's agenda for the second half of the winter session beginning Wednesday. Of these, six are finance bills.
Some of important bills pending:
* The womens reservation bill. It's a constitutional amendment bill that seeks to reserve one-third of all seats for women in parliament and the state legislative assemblies.
* Anto-vommunal violence bill. While the official list released by government does not mention it, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram Monday included this controversial bill in the list of important bills for the session. It makes bureaucrats and public servants accountable for any acts of commission and omission while handling communal violence.
* The Telangana bill provides for creating a separate state of Telangana out of Andhra Pradesh.
* Rights of persons with disabilities bill provides for five percent reservation in public sector jobs and makes the private sector more accountable for creating a disabled-friendly environment. It provides incentives for the private sector to take such measures.
* The street vendors bill aims to protect the livelihood rights of street vendors as well as regulate street vending through demarcation of vending zones, conditions for and restrictions on street vending.
* The public procurement bill seeks to regulate and ensure transparency in procurement by the central government and its entities. It exempts procurements for disaster management, for security or strategic purposes and those below Rs.50 lakh. The government can also exempt, in public interest, any procurements or procuring entities from any of the bill's provisions.
* The Prevention of Corruption Act (Amendment) Bill. Under this, an investigating agency may have to seek prior permission from the government before questioning a retired bureaucrat in a corruption case. The provisions aimed at protecting retired bureaucrats will come into effect only after parliament gives its nod to the changes in the Prevention of Corruption Act (Amendment) Bill, 1988.
* The prevention of bribery of foreign public officials and officials of public international organisations bill provides a mechanism to deal with bribery among foreign public officials (FPO) and officials of public international organizations (OPIO). India had signed the United Nations Convention against Corruption on December 9, 2005. The bill is necessary for ratifying the convention.
* The judicial standards and accountability bill lays down enforceable standards of conduct for judges. It also requires judges to declare details of their and their family members' assets and liabilities. Importantly, it creates mechanisms to allow any person to complain against judges on grounds of misbehaviour or incapacity.
* The right of citizens to time-bound delivery of goods and services and redressal of their grievances bill seeks to create a mechanism to ensure timely delivery of goods and services to citizens. Every public authority is required to publish a citizens charter within six months of the commencement of the act. The charter will detail the goods and services to be provided and their timelines for delivery.
* The whistleblowers protection bill.
(Posted on 04-02-2014)