Leader of Opposition issue hangs in the balance as Budget session ends

New Delhi, Aug 14: A decision on the issue of Leader of the Opposition post for the Congress hung in the balance as the first month-long Budget session of the Narendra Modi Government concluded today. ”It is beyond my jurisdiction,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said at the end-of-the session press conference when reporters persisted with the query. His implied suggestion was that the matter was with Speaker Sumitra Mahajan.

Initially, Naidu said that in the just passed Judicial Accountability Bill, the provision is for the Leader of the largest party in the Opposition and not for the Leader of the Opposition. ”If there is absence of one member, it does not make any void,” he said when asked about the necessity of LoP of Lok Sabha in the selection process for the Lokpal and the Chief Information Commissioner and Chief Vigilance Commissioner.

Naidu remarked “I cannot feel the gap of the LoP…..I do not find difficulty in dealing with opposition parties”. Congress has made a strong pitch on the LoP issue and had given a memorandum to the Speaker. With 44 members in the Lok Sabha, the party is arguing that there is no law which prescribes any requisite numbers like 10 per cent of the House to claim the LoP post. Without taking names of any Opposition leader, Naidu disapproved of comments made by some leaders that seemed to question the “impartiality” of the Speaker. “This is dangerous to the institution of Parliament and should be avoided at all costs”.

Expressing satisfaction over the sitting of Parliament, he said that “general perception has been that Parliament this time around presented a different picture. Credit for this goes not only to the ruling parties. I have no hesitation to share the credit with Opposition”. Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, however, listed figures of Parliament session working hours in the last three years, to drive home the point that the Congress worked as a “cooperative and responsible opposition” unlike the BJP, which engaged in disruptions day in and day out when UPA was in power.

Azad remained that in the 2012 Monsoon session, 65 hours and 30 minutes were lost as against 26 hours and 40 minutes that were utilised. It was a similar story in Monsoon session last year when 46 hours and 25 minutes were lost. In last year’s winter session, the time utilised was 27 hours and 52 minutes as against time lost of 72 hours and 50 minutes. He said that the session showed that the Government had nothing new to offer to the people as it mostly picked up from programmes and schemes of the Congress. ”You cannot assess the performance of the government, as they have nothing new to offer,” he said.

Naidu, however, rejected the criticism saying the presentation of General Budget as well as the Railway Budget showed that the Narendra Modi Government walked the talked. The Parliamentary Affairs Minister regretted that the Insurance Bill could not be passed as “unfortunately Congress, the original architect of the bill and some other parties had a different view and the Government did not have a majority in the House.”

Naidu hailed as a “landmark achievement” of the government as Parliament today passed the Judicial Appointment Bill unanimously and said that the Modi government passed the bill pending for more than two decades within three months of the NDA forming a government at the Centre. The Parliamentary Affairs Minister also chose the occasion to flag his concern over disruptions and members going into the Well of the House but refrained from taking names. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi had stormed the well of Lok Sabha over communal violence issue days back.

Naidu also disagreed with contentions that the Prime Minister was not frequently visible in Houses especially after the BRICS summit.
“This is uncalled criticism by our Opposition. He (Modi) is very much available. As and when the Prime Minister was required, he came,” Naidu said. Naidu said the session has yielded “mixed results” and there is still substantial scope to demonstrate to people that the country’s Parliamentary functioning has really matured as there is need for collective and constructive action.

“The session has been satisfactory with respect to the number of sittings we had, bills introduced and passed, number of working hours, time lost on account of interruptions, issues discussed under various provisions,” he said. Citing figures, the Minister said the Lok Sabha introduced and passed 24 and 8 bills in 2004, 26 and 16 bills in 2009 and 27 and 20 bills in 2014, respectively.