Keeping the government on tenterhooks on key reform measures like the Insurance Bill and GST...
Keeping the government on tenterhooks on key reform measures like the Insurance Bill and GST, Congress today said there is “no blank cheque” on its support on these in Parliament as the “devil lies in the details”.
Although he described the proposed Goods and Services Tax as “entirely a Congress baby” which it has in principle “no reason to jettison”, party spokesperson Abhisek Singhvi said its support was “subject to nitty gritty” as it is not aware whether the Bill is being brought in the same form as under the previous UPA government.
As to the Bill proposing to raise FDI in insurance sector from 26 to 49 per cent, Singhvi remained non-committal, saying “it is dangerous to speak in abstract”.
“How can there be a blank cheque… There is no blank cheque in legislations or politics… God and devil lie in the details,” he said while parrying direct questions on whether Congress will support the Bills or join parties like JD(U), SP, RJD and the Left in opposing these.
To a specific question on whether Congress will accept the recommendations of the Select Committee of Rajya Sabha — which includes the party’s members — that went into the FDI in insurance issue, Singhvi said, “Parliamentary panel reports are not binding on Parliament, the ruling party or the Opposition. Parliament is supreme.
Singhvi, meanwhile, recalled that the passage of the GST Bill, when UPA had brought it, was opposed tooth and nail by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was then the Gujarat Chief Minister.
“BJP’s opposition to GST was irresponsible, petty and against public interest,” he said.
Singhvi also accused BJP of “doublespeak” and having “selective amnesia” for raising the matter of disruptions in Parliament.
“For the last two days, we have been hearing sermons from the Prime Minister, the government and BJP leaders on how necessary it is to have a productive Parliament session. They said that it’s not only the Prime Minister or the BJP but all who MPs have got the mandate.
“Such exalted sentiments were not expressed by BJP for a full 10 years when they were in Opposition. Figures for parliamentary disruptions, when BJP was in Opposition, show that it has been very hypocritical preaching by them in the last two days,” Singhvi said.
The BJP-led NDA government does not have a majority in the Rajya Sabha, where it will have to depend upon a section of the Opposition for the passage of the Insurance Bill.
Singhvi’s attack came a day after the government spoke of the need to make the Winter session a productive one and asked the Opposition parties to respect the spirit of the mandate given to BJP to run the government.
Slamming the “productive session” pitch, Singhvi said, “This is the intersection of hypocrisy, sermonising and doing precisely the opposite of what they were doing when they were in the Opposition. Your preachings therefore ring hollow.”
The Congress spokesperson also attacked Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, alleging that he also betrays the same characteristics. Jaitley had yesterday accused Congress of damaging the economy, both while in government and as an opposition party.
Singhvi also slammed the government on proposed changes in the land acquisition Act.
“Has the influence of corporates become so great in just a few months since this government came to power that they are now treating as villain a Bill which was supported by them? Has the bill become now so bad?” Singhvi asked
“We hope that the land acquisition Bill is not dictated by corporates. We hope that in the guise of changing norms and environment laws, you are not making free in and out a policy,” he added.
He said that the difference between a photo opportunity and truth is wide in this government and cautioned against “sabotage and throttling” of social welfare schemes.
“Faults are pointed out in our policies and then the same are implemented with minor changes,” he alleged.
Citing figures of disruptions during the UPA tenure, he said that the productive time in the last five years stands at 61 per cent and the Lok Sabha passed 179 of the 328 Bills which were to be taken up during that period.
“That is the lowest number of Bills passed by a full five year-term Lok Sabha. In comparison, the 13th and 14th Lok Sabhas passed 297 and 248 Bills, respectively.
“Only 61 per cent of its scheduled time could be made productive. This has been the worst performance of the Lower House in more than 50 years,” Singhvi said.
Getting into specifics, he said that the Winter session in 2010 had only 7.62 productive hours against the 138 hours available for work. The productive time percentage, as compared to the available time, was 21 per cent in Monsoon session of 2012 and 49 per cent for the Budget session of 2013, Singhvi added.
Alleging that the Question Hour had been the worst casualty when BJP was in the Opposition, Singhvi said that while in Winter session of 2010 only 0.78 per cent of the time was devoted to questions, it was just 1.23 per cent in the Monsoon session of 2012.
“The best performance so far was in the Budget session of 2009 when 19.75 per cent of the time was spent on the Question Hour.