THE upcoming budget session of Parliament is likely to be a boisterous one, with a lot of controversial issues that will be raised by the opposition. Although the Parliamentary Affairs minister Prahlad Joshi has stated that the Modi government is ready to face all the issues, the opposition is sharpening its knives. The session is important, as it is the first session of the year in 2021. It is being held amidst the pandemic.
The session will commence on January 29, and the Union Budget will be presented on February 1. The session will conclude by April 8, with a recess of 20 days between February 15 and March 8. All COVID-19 protocols will be in place.
President Ramnath Kovind will address the customary joint session on January 29, followed by the placing of the Economic Survey the next day. On February 1 the budget will be presented by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, the third consecutive one for her.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM THIS SESSION?
Budget making at a time of pandemic is indeed a difficult process. Breaking the age-old tradition, the Finance Ministry has chosen to go paperless, thereby not printing the Budget 2021.
All eyes are on the government, as the budget would shed light on how the government allocates the funds to different sectors. Almost all the sectors are affected and, it is going to be a challenge to balance the revenue and the expenditure.
Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has promised to build a “stronger economy like never before”. The Budget will be an unprecedented one, she had stated, as never had been such a situation “where tax collections are struggling to keep up with the budgeted number” and “the demand for goods and services is sluggish.” A recent Reuter’s report predicts that the Indian economy is expected to shrink nearly ten percent in the current financial year.
THE NEED OF A STRONG OPPOSITION
The opposition has enough ammunition to attack the government including the COVID-19 vaccination drive, the ongoing farmer’s agitation, the economy, China’s aggressive postures, price rise, job scenario, the continuation of the CAA agitation, the plan to construct a new Parliament building for Rs 20000 crores, among others.
The opposition plans to engage in debates on employment generation, reverse migration, border standoff with China, and Indo Pakistan relations.
A senior Congress leader claims that the political parties stayed away from the three-month-old farmer’s agitation, but in Parliament, they will be vocal. The opposition plans to engage in debates on employment generation, reverse migration, border standoff with China, and Indo Pakistan relations. The health ministry and other important sectors need more allocation in terms of revenue. The finance minister said, “The budget would take note of all the inputs received from the health sector to take this forward.”
Not only will the Opposition question the government on its handling of the pandemic, but also it will discuss the vaccination drive that started on January 16. The weak states would seek more financial assistance to deal with the pandemic.
The government is also getting ready with some key legislation like the Personal Data Protection Bill, pending bills from last year including the DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, and the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Bill. Pending legislation includes the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill and the Dam Safety Bill.
The question arises about the effectiveness of the Opposition as it is divided. There is no tall leader who could unite them although the Congress chief Sonia Gandhi tries to hold a meeting before the session.
Key Bills to be discussed include the Personal Data Protection Bill, DNA Technology (Use and Application) Regulation Bill, and Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill and the Dam Safety Bill.
There are speculations that the non-BJP, Non-Congress Opposition might unite under the NCP chief Sharad Pawar. Congress is undergoing a crisis with a section of leaders questioning the Gandhi family. The party has bought time with the promise of an AICC session in early 2021. According to senior Congress leader Anand Sharma, there will be floor coordination.
Though the BJP is close to getting a majority in the Rajya Sabha, the strategy is to divide the opposition to get the controversial legislation passed. That is how it managed to pass legislation like the Triple Talaq, Citizenship Amendment Bill and repeal of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.
The opposition should change its strategy by actively participating in debates and raising issues. The lawmakers should do their duty of scrutinizing the budget and keep the government on its toes. The way a responsible opposition would function is to use the question hour, calling attention motions and debate on the President’s address to hold the government accountable. The government too should take the opposition into confidence. With elections in five states nearing, the probability is that they will play to the gallery.
The way a responsible opposition would function is to use the question hour, calling attention motions and debate on the President’s address to hold the government accountable.
When Rajiv Gandhi won 403 seats in 1984, the opposition with a dozen vocal leaders brought out the Bofors scam successfully which led to his ouster. A matter of concern is that the country lacks a strong and vigilant Opposition because a vibrant democracy needs one. The opposition parties should show a united face in Parliament. (IPA Service)
(Kalyani Shankar is an author and senior Delhi based journalist. The views are personal.
Originally Published in The Leaflet