The winter session of Parliament appeared headed for a stormy start on Wednesday with the government and opposition parties bracing for what could be a game of political brinkmanship over the hardship faced by people following the recall of high-value banknotes.
At an all-party meeting here on Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said political parties must “send a message from Parliament” that they are opposed to black money.
“We have launched a crusade against corruption, black money and fake currency, which is also behind cross-border terrorism. All parties should come together on this issue of national interest,” he said.
But the opposition parties stuck to their stand, charging the government for “faulty implementation” of demonetisation — scrapping 500- and 1,000-rupee notes — that has forced people to stand in long queues outside banks and ATMs to exchange old notes and withdraw fresh ones.
The government has accused the opposition of defending black money hoarders by opposing the move.
Briefing the leaders, finance minister Arun Jaitley said secrecy was needed to roll out the scheme. “Otherwise, its purpose would have been defeated.”
Opposition parties such as the Congress, the Trinamool Congress and the JD (U) have moved adjournments motions in both Houses to discuss the issue on Wednesday.
The Consumer Protection Bill, 2015: To make redressal of consumer complaints easier. Also provides for recall of goods and action against misleading advertisements
The Whistle Blowers Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2015: Specifies grounds under which disclosures related to corruption may not be made
The Labour code on Wages: Introduce a code that amalgamates four wage-related laws on minimum wages, bonus and equal remuneration
Factories (Amendment) Bill, 2016: Raises limit of overtime work hours and empowers Centre to exempt establishments (pending in RS)Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Bill, 2016: Raises maternity leave to 26 weeks, requires establishments with 50 employees to provide crèche facilities (Pending in LS)
There were hectic parleys among opposition parties in the past two days to put up a united front and corner the government on the issue, which could be a potential game-changer in the assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur two months later.
West Bengal chief minister and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee arrived in the national capital Tuesday evening to try and rally the opposition around the issue. A united opposition could imperil the government’s plan to pass two bills that will enable the roll out of the long-delayed goods and services tax (GST) from April 1 next year.
The NDA government also hopes to get parliamentary approval for other important bills in this session, including the labour code on wages, the first in a series of proposed reforms in the labour sector.
What could give a breather to the government is a division in the opposition camp.
The CPI(M) is not with the Trinamool Congress on its demand for rollback of demonetization even as the Left party is preparing to join others in attacking the government for the harassment caused to people and for not recovering the money owed by industrialists to banks, termed non-performing assets.
The government could hope to exploit the chinks in the opposition camp to get the GST-related bills passed. But Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari’s insistence that no bill can be passed in a din could be a hurdle. The NDA is in a minority in the Upper House.
“We are consulting opposition parties to conduct the legislative business in a constructive and positive manner. The government is ready to discuss everything that they want,” minister of state for parliamentary affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi told HT.
The Congress has been holding parleys with other opposition parties to launch a united attack on the NDA government on demonetisation, one-rank-one-pension scheme in the wake of the suicide by an ex-serviceman, suppression of the freedom of speech following the proposed daylong ban on NDTV and plight of farmers.
Opposition parties with stakes in poll-bound states would like to use the winter session to set the tone against the BJP in the run up to the assembly polls.