Rising fuel prices rock Parliament
- Parties urge Speaker, Chairman to reduce sessions amid polls; both Houses to begin at 11 am from Tuesday
Spiraling fuel prices under the Narendra Modi government rocked both Houses of Parliament when it resumed for the second half of the budget session on Monday. The Congress and other Opposition parties launched protests, demanding a debate on the issue and forcing frequent adjournments.
Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who debuted as the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said, “Throughout the country, people are agitating. That is why, we are requesting you to suspend all the rules and give us a chance to speak. Ultimately, we will see what the Government is going to say on this subject. There is a rise of nearly 820 % excise duty on diesel and around 258 % excise duty on petrol after 2014.”
The original plan was to have women MPs run the two Houses and for women-related issues to get priority in the proceedings to mark the International Women’s Day in Parliament. However, the protests and frequent disruptions partially derailed the plan.
Leader of the opposition Mallikarjun Kharge gave a notice under rule 267 to not take up listed business for the day and instead discuss the issue of a hike in petrol, diesel and cooking gas prices. Rajya Sabha chairperson M Venkaiah Naidu said the issue could be taken up for discussion during the discussion on the appropriation bill. Kharge however did not relent, and the opposition kept raising slogans in the house. The house was first adjourned till 11 AM and for a second time till 1 PM after the opposition continued to push for its demand. The Opposition, which has been vocal about the fuel price rise, launched protests in both Houses.
Congress leader Adhir Chowdhury accused the government of diverting attention from the issue of petroleum prices and said in the Lok Sabha, “On Women’s Day, we must discuss the way the price of petrol and diesel has increased.” Chowdhury also demanded that the government must introduce women reservation bill and pass it.
On Monday, several party leaders also requested Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla and Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu to curtail the session as many MPs are engaged in the election campaign in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry. With an eye on this, both Houses will return to the old schedule of working from 11 am to 6 PM from Tuesday. Both Naidu and Birla announced the change of timetable in the Houses.
Under protocol put in place on account of Covid, the Rajya Sabha was working from 9 am to 2 pm and the Lok Sabha from 4 pm to 10 pm. Given the low attendance, the thinking in Parliament is that both houses can be conducted simultaneously.
Senior officials said that the current 6 feet distance between the seats of MPs would be reduced to 3 feet to accommodate more MPs in the House. “Out of 238 MPs of Rajya Sabha, 180 members will sit in the chamber while others will be accommodated in the gallery. Similar arrangement would be made in the Lok Sabha as well,” a senior official said. Many women MPs, including Harsimrat Kaur Badal of SAD, also protested against the high prices of fuel.
Meanwhile, Rajya Sabha chairperson M Venkaiah Naidu on Monday said the low attendance of members of non-BJP and non-Congress parties in the meetings held for scrutiny of Demands for Grants was an area of concern. He said the attendance of other parties and groups had fallen to 27.60% from 40% last year. “The overall attendance in the 21 meetings this year has fallen to 42% from 48% last year,” he said.