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Nearly half of parliament session lost to protests

Saturday December 03, 2011 08:34:32 AM, IANS

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New Delhi: Nearly half of parliament's 21-day long winter session has been lost to protests mainly over foreign equity in retailing, leaving the government's elaborate legislative agenda unsettled.

With the opposition and some members of the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) vociferously seeking withdrawal of the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in retail, the stalemate over the key reform and other issues continued for the ninth day.

Both houses of parliament were adjourned till Wednesday minutes after they sat after eight days of similar protests over various issues, including price rise, Telangana and a Kerala dam.

The houses will now resume sitting only on Wednesday. Parliament will have a four-day extended weekend. It was scheduled not to run Monday, while Tuesday is a holiday on account of Muharram, the day of Muslim mourning. The current session ends Dec 22.

However, the four-day break has given the government enough time to chalk out a strategy for ending the current logjam.

According to PRS Legislative Research, a policy study group, the two houses have already lost 96 hours work of the scheduled 99 hours. Which means the two houses have sat for only three hours in the first nine days of their business.

Devika Malik of PRS Legislative Research told IANS: "Hard to predict when the logjam ends. We hope it ends on Wednesday."

Malik pointed out that there was "an elaborate legislative agenda with 22 new bills" to be settled for this session.

"When such a situation arises, legislation is rushed through, and there is less time spent on debating bills. Basically, parliament compromises on the time spent on debate. Since 2009, at least 17 percent of bills were passed within five minutes (of debate)," she noted.

Besides the time lost, wasting every business hour of parliament means crores of rupees in tax payers' money going down the drain.

Based on the annual budget allocation for parliament, Rs.2.5 crore is spent on both houses every day. Accordingly, the nine days of paralysis of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha may have cost the exchequer Rs.22.5 crore.

The scenes in parliament on Friday were familiar. Presiding officers of the two houses first cancelled the Question Hour to meet again at noon. They then adjourned both the houses for the day when the MPs met again amid din.

In the Lok Sabha, opposition and some members of the Trinamool Congress created an uproar to press for their demand to revoke the cabinet's FDI decision.

As soon as Speaker Meira Kumar took up the Question Hour, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) leader Basudeb Acharia (CPI-M) rose to protest the new reform decision. He was joined by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member Murli Manohar Joshi.

Joshi had earlier in the week given a notice for an adjournment motion under a rule that entails voting.

The notice has not been rejected but the government is wary to accept it because if it loses the vote, it will have to withdraw the decision to allow 51 percent foreign equity in multi-brand retailing and 100 percent in single-brand format.

There were other issues as well. MPs from Kerala flashed placards demanding a new dam in place of the over century-old Mullaperiyar Dam, which is located in Kerala but the waters are used by Tamil Nadu.

In the Rajya Sabha, protests started as soon as Chairman Hamid Ansari started the session.

The house resonated with slogans against FDI. Members from the BJP, Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Samajwadi Party and the AIADMK protested noisily, creating a bedlam in the house.

Ansari first adjourned the house till noon, and then again till Wednesday.





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