Rajya Sabha to debate NEP, GST, economy, environment on Parliament floor
Chaired by defence minister Rajnath Singh, the meeting was attended by representatives of the Congress, Trinamool Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Telangana Rashtra Samithi, and Communist Party of India (Marxist).Updated: Sep 17, 2020 05:40 IST
The Union government on Wednesday agreed to debates demanded in Parliament on four key topics by the Opposition -- the Goods and Services Tax (GST), jobs and the economy, the national education policy (NEP) and the draft environment impact assessment norms -- at a special meeting with select political leaders.
Chaired by defence minister Rajnath Singh, the meeting was attended by representatives of the Congress, Trinamool Congress, Rashtriya Janata Dal, Samajwadi Party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Telangana Rashtra Samithi, and Communist Party of India (Marxist).
Congress leaders said a second meeting would be held on Friday or Saturday, in which the India-China military standoff along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in the eastern Ladakh sector may be raised. A Congress leader who attended the meeting said on condition of anonymity:
“We will first hear Rajnath Singh’s statement and then decide our next course of action.”
Singh told the leaders he would make a statement on the India-China border issue at 12 noon in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday, but the government has not been in favour of an open debate on the issue citing the sensitivities on the ground as Indian and Chinese soldiers face-off against each other at several friction points in the region.
Wednesday’s meeting was a rare instance of the BJP brass reaching out to opposition parties to come to an agreement on contentious issues. While government managers dial individual opposition leaders regularly, such a meeting has taken place after a long hiatus. In November 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and then ministers Arun Jaitley and M Venkaiah Naidu met Congress president Sonia Gandhi and former PM Manmohan Singh to find a way for the passage of the GST bill.
Opposition parties also assured support for seven ordinances. but demanded that the three farm-related bills and banking regulation amendments be sent to select panels for a review. Government managers did not agree.
Congress leaders were keen on a debate on economy and job losses and the party’s Rajya Sabha chief whip Jairam Ramesh, a former environment minister, pressed for a debate on the environment.
The draft environmental impact assessment (EIA) norms contain contentious clauses, including one pertaining to the regularisation of infrastructure projects that violated the EIA Notification, 2006, by starting construction before environmental clearance or by expanding their capacity. The draft also proposes a shortening of the time for public hearings, which offer people affected by projects the opportunity to understand them and give their consent for them.
Trinamool Congress floor leader Derek O’Brien was keen for a discussion on GST in the backdrop of the a projected shortfall of Rs 2.35 lakh crore in the states’ share of Goods and Services Tax (GST) revenue this financial year because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
DMK leader Tiruchi Siva insisted on a debate on the new national education policy, which has recommended primary education in local languages, facilitating the possible entry of foreign universities in India, creating a single higher-education regulator, and easier board examinations.
The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam-run Tamil Nadu government has declared it would prefer a two-language formula and oppose a three-language formula proposed in the education policy. The state has also told the Centre that it wants to continue the current 10+2+3 system of education and would not accept the proposed 5+3+3+4 system.
Government managers initially proposed a combined debate on the GST and the economy in the meeting, to which Opposition leaders pointed out that GST was an issue related to the federal structure and should not be linked to the larger economy. O’Brien’s calling-attention motion, which entails a reply by the minister, on the subject is likely to be discussed on September 18.
O’Brien also accused the government of “robbing” 18 hours of the opposition’s time by scrapping the daily Question Hour and not allocating enough time for discussions.
“Rajnath Singh heard us patiently and said time management will be improved,” said O’Brien.
SP’s Ramgopal Yadav advised the government not to bring the three farm-related ordinances: The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Ordinance, 2020, the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 and the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020.Many experts have hailed the new laws that the government says seek to improve the farmers’ lot, but opposition parties and farmers’ organizations have alleged that they would be beneficial only to corporate houses.