Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government in general and Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar in particular will be in the firing line over spiralling prices in the forthcoming budget session. The issue threatens to derail proceedings unless the government concedes to the Opposition’s demand to debate it on the first working day, February 23.
Parliament opens on February 22 with the President’s Address. The Railway and General Budgets will be presented on February 24 and 26 respectively.
Pawar, in fact, would be on the mat from the word go if the House functions on Tuesday. As many as 11 of 20 questions slated for Question Hour that day relate to sugar, food price and agricultural production that come under his ministries of agriculture, food and civil supplies and consumer affairs and public distribution.
In their interaction with Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar on Saturday all major parties demanded an immediate debate on price rise. They include the BJP, Left and UPA’s outside supporters — the RJD and Samajwadi Party. The latter, say sources, could even withdraw its support on the issue.
Meanwhile, with even UPA partners like the Trinamool and DMK joining the chorus for a debate on price rise, the Congress and NCP stand virtually isolated.
“If the government agrees to a debate (on February 23), there will not be any disruption,” said Sushma Swaraj, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha after the two-hour meeting.
CPI veteran Gurudas Dasgupta warned that if the government did not agree, they would move an adjournment motion on February 23 to force the House to take up the matter.
The government, however, wants to discuss it after the Motion of Thanks on the Presidential Address is cleared. And to get the Opposition on board, it is even ready to curtail the debate on this Motion.
“We are ready to discuss all issues in Parliament,” said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when asked about the BJP’s demand to debate Indo-Pak talks. In fact, the BJP wants to discuss price rise, Indo-Pak talks and internal security on February 23, 24 and 25.
The other issues flagged for debate include Maoist violence, fertilizer price hike, unemployment and plight of unorganised sector workers. The Telangana controversy and the Trinamool’s demand for a debate on violence in West Bengal are also likely to take place.
The Speaker said all parties have agreed to extend cooperation for the smooth running of the session, which would have 35 sittings.