Opposition demands bills be sent to parliamentary committees
Opposition parties demanded on Wednesday that several contentious bills, such as the tweaks to Right to Information (RTI) and counterterrorism laws, be sent to parliamentary committees for further review, stitching up a united front even as the government prepares to push through with its legislative agenda.
At least 12 parties participated in two meetings throughout the day – the first was chaired by United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi in Parliament before leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, met with a larger group to discuss House strategy.
The first demand for a bill to be referred to a select committee was made by Azad in the Upper House in connection with the RTI amendments. “State committees are being diluted. We are representatives of states. If states’ rights are diluted then we should talk about it. We demand that the bill should be sent to a select committee,” he said.
The Trinamool Congress (TMC) joined the demand and called for seven bills to be referred to select or standing committees. “It is the government and opposition which passed 14 bills. There are 18 to 19 bills which are transmitted to Rajya Sabha. We have given a separate notice that seven bills should be send to select committees if standing committees are not in place, for further improving the bills,” said TMC’s Derek O’Brien.
Standing and select committees are made up of MPs from across benches and discuss issues in cases where disagreements stall a bill. While the government has a comfortable majority in the Lok Sabha, it continues to be outnumbered by a small margin in the Rajya Sabha.
Leaders in Congress later said a whip had been issued to all its Rajya Sabha members to be present in the House on Thursday to oppose the RTI bill, which has been listed for the day.
The first meeting was attended by representatives of Bahujan Samaj Party, United Progressive Alliance (UPA) partners, National Conference, Aam Aadmi Party and several others. MPs of the Samajwadi Party and the Trinamool Congress did not attend – Trinamool leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay could not since he was given a short notice, according to a political leader who did not wish to be named.
Azad held a separate meeting, which included the TMC and the SP.
Sonia Gandhi held a second meeting involving her party MPs to discuss the strategy for the remaining days of the ongoing budget session. According to a leader aware of the discussions, the party decided to insist on sending all key bills to parliamentary committees for thorough scrutiny before being passed in the Rajya Sabha.
The UPA chairperson had on Tuesday accused the government of weakening the RTI Act, saying it was “hell-bent on completely subverting the historic RTI Act of 2005”.
Union minister Prakash Javadekar, speaking to reporters at a briefing on cabinet decisions, said the Upper House was not meant to “stop bills” but to have a discussion.