The monsoon session of Parliament got underway from September 14th with strict safety protocols in place. The proceedings of both Houses are taking place without leave even on Saturdays and Sundays. Each house sits for four hours per day-with one session in the morning and another in the afternoon. This would provide for a total of 18 sittings across the monsoon session. Three major issues that dominated last week, included the COVID-19 pandemic, 11 bills to replace ordinances and the border stand–off with China. Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed confidence that this session will give a very strong message that both Houses are standing behind our brave soldiers guarding the borders in one voice. Prime Minister also struck a cautious note, stating that the session was taking place under ‘Special circumstances’ and asserted that the Members have chosen the path of duty.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told the Lok Sabha that India was fully prepared to deal with any situation and that the morale of Indian troops deployed at heights of 15000 feet remained high. He blamed China for attempting to unilaterally alter the status quo of the LAC and said that while India wanted to peacefully resolve the ongoing military confrontation, it was fully prepared to deal with any situation. Defence Minister making a similar statement in Rajya Sabha on the situation in eastern Ladakh asserted that “No force in the world can stop Indian soldiers from patrolling the country’s borders in Ladakh”.
In the period since the last session, the government had issued 11 ordinances. Five of these relate to Covid-19 crisis and the lockdown: extending tax filing dates, moratorium on new Insolvency cases, Protection for health workers and temporary cuts in salaries and allowances of Members of Parliament and Ministers. Of the other six, two relate to supersession of the Boards of the councils that regulate homeopathy and Indian systems of medicine, one allows the Reserve Bank of India to regulate co-operative banks, while three others relate to agricultural markets. The Bills introduced in Rajya Sabha included The Salaries and Allowances of Ministers (Amendment) Bill, 2020, The Epidemic Diseases (Amendment) Bill, 2020, The Homoeopathy Central Council (Amendment) Bill, 2020 and The Indian Medicine Central Council (Amendment) Bill, 2020 have been introduced in the Rajya Sabha through voice vote. All the four Bills are already in force as ordinances.
Union Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan told the Lok Sabha that the nationwide lockdown was a bold decision by the government. It is testimony to the fact that Indians collectively stood up to manage Covid. During the proceedings, Finance Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman sought Parliament’s nod for additional spending of Rs. 2.35 lakh crore, which includes a cash outgo of Rs. 1.60 lakh crore, primarily to meet expenses for combating the COVID 19 pandemic.
The government also introduced three Bills on Farm sector namely Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill. The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill and The Essential Commodities (Amendment ) Bill which will replace Ordinances promulgated by the government earlier. Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar asserted that these Bills will help farmer get a remunerative price for their produce well as private investments and technology. Prime Minister Narendra Modi termed the three Bills passed by both Houses as historic. Mr. Modi said that “Farmers have been given new independence. They will now have more options and opportunities to sell their produce. It was necessary to bring these measures to protect them from Middlemen. “
The Rajya Sabha also approved a Bill to suspend insolvency proceedings for up to a maximum of one year against fresh covid-19 related default from March 25 this year. Replying to a debate in the Upper House, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that the aim of the Insolvency & Bankruptcy Code (IBC) is to keep “companies as going concern rather than liquidating them”. The Lok Sabha passed the Taxation bill that seeks to provide various reliefs and transparency in tax administration to the tax payers.
Script: Yogesh Sood, Journalist