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Winter session: PM says ready to discuss all issues

Both Houses of Parliament were adjourned till 12 noon today soon after they met on the first day of the winter session over differences on FDI in multi-brand detail. Harsh winter in store for govt | PM asks MPs to come together to address challenges

delhi Updated: Nov 22, 2012 12:50 IST

Both Houses of Parliament were adjourned till 12 noon on Thursday soon after they met on the first day of the winter session over differences on foreign investment in multi-brand detail.

The government was willing to discuss all issues in Parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Thursday as he sought the cooperation of all parties for the smooth functioning of the winter session.

Expressing the hope that members of the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha would "come together and address the issues and challenges that we face as a nation", Manmohan Singh said: "We are ready to discuss all issues on the floor of the both houses."

Addressing reporters outside Parliament ahead of the beginning of the winter session, he appealed for smooth functioning of parliament and said: "We all have an obligation, both in opposition as well as in the government to work together to enable our parliamentary democracy of which we are genuinely proud to grapple with the formidable challenges faced by our country."

"Our country faces many problem on the economic front arising out of the consequences of global economic slow down. We need to create new jobs on a large scale to provide gainful employment to our youth," he said.

There was, he added, the need "to increase investments in infrastructure and social service like health and education to accelerate the tempo of social economic growth".

"Our government is committed to these thoughts for success requires cohesive collective action on the part of all segments of our politics. I invite all political parties to join hands in this vital national endeavour," he added.

UPA government and the opposition are to lock horns on Thursday as Parliament re-opens for a crucial winter session that will see a recent string of pro-market reforms being hotly contested.

The previous session was a washout in September with Parliament passing just three or four bills because of disruptions by opposition protests about corruption.

The new winter session, which is slated to end on December 20, is scheduled to hold 20 sittings to legislate 25 bills and debate another 10.

UPA's key ally Trinamool Congress in September withdrew its 19 MPs to protest against the government's decisions to hike fuel prices and allow foreign direct investment (FDI) in the retail sector.

Opponents have billed the measures as anti-poor, saying they are aimed at pandering to large foreign corporations.

Sushma Swaraj, leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), warned the upcoming session could be as stormy as the previous one, which ended on September 7.

"We want the House to run (but) there are several issues waiting to be discussed," she told reporters on the eve of the new session.

"Our pre-condition is that the issue on which an assurance was given to the house be taken up first under a rule that entails voting," Swaraj said.

The BJP insists that former finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, now India's President, promised last year that FDI in the retail sector would be allowed only after a consensus in parliament -- a stand which is disputed by India's ruling Congress party.

"There was no assurance in that sense of the word," parliamentary affairs minister Kamal Nath commented in the run up to the session.

"We will go into the records on what Pranab Mukherjee had said," Nath told reporters.

Analysts say the opposition, which is yet to decide on testing the government's legislative strength with a no-confidence vote, want to keep Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's coalition nervous.

To survive a no-confidence vote -- which could prompt early elections -- Singh's Congress-led coalition will have to depend on outside parties, many of which are also hostile to foreign investment.

Among the market-opening steps, the decision to allow foreign supermarkets into the retail sector did not require a vote but opening up the gigantic insurance and pensions markets will require parliamentary approval.

The push for the pro-market reforms comes as the government faces a slowing economy, a gaping fiscal deficit and high inflation which has built pressure on the left-leaning ruling alliance.

The new session is also likely to take up a divisive anti-corruption draft law and a thorny bill to protect whistleblowers.

According to the New Delhi-based think-tank PRS, 102 bills still pending include important legislation on issues like land acquisition, access to food, affirmative action for women and a host of anti-corruption initiatives.

(With inputs from HT, IANS, AFP)