India's Parliament ends chaotic, no-work session

AP News
Posted: Sep 07, 2012 8:16 AM
India's Parliament ends chaotic, no-work session

NEW DELHI (AP) — India's Parliament adjourned a raucous, one-month session Friday that had more shouting matches than official business, especially after the opposition pressured the beleaguered government over a coal scandal said to have cost the treasury billions.

Only four out of 30 slated bills passed. Another 15 bills were to be introduced for discussion but lawmakers managed to squeeze in only six, according to PRS Legislative Research, a New Delhi-based research group.

The Lok Sabha or lower house of Parliament worked for only 25 hours this session and the upper house for just over 26 hours, the group's data showed.

Over the last two weeks, both houses of Parliament have done little business as the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party stalled proceedings demanding the prime minister's resignation after an audit report said the government lost huge sums of money by selling coal fields without competitive bidding. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was coal minister during the 2004 sale. The auditor's report exonerated Singh, but it estimated that private companies got a windfall profit of $34 billion because of the low prices they paid for the coal fields.

The Congress party-led ruling coalition offered to debate the matter in Parliament but the BJP refused, saying that the government only sought to waste time in debate. They also demanded that all coal block allocations be cancelled.

The government has promised a fair investigation into any wrongdoing in the allocation of the coal blocks. Since the release of the national auditor's report India's top investigative agency, the Central Bureau of Investigation has opened a probe into the business dealing of a Congress party lawmaker from the western state of Maharashtra.

Singh's government has been weighed down under a crush of scams and corruption accusations over the last two years and has been unable to push through crucial economic reforms. The slew of scandals have included corruption charges made against ministers and senior officials over the hosting of the 2010 Commonwealth Games and an earlier audit that found India's treasury lost billions of dollars through the government's haphazard sale of cellphone spectrum.

The Comptroller and Auditor General said last week the allocations of coal fields were made on the recommendation of state governments and cleared Singh.

The BJP-led opposition has used the corruption scandals to repeatedly paralyze Parliament over the last two years, slowing down work on reform legislation.

On Friday Singh said that India could restart growth in its economy, generate employment and direct resources to pull hundreds of millions out of poverty but added that "we cannot do this if the government is constantly distracted by the actions of those who prefer obstruction over discussion.

"We take pride in the fact, that we, since independence, have been a practicing, functioning democracy. What we have witnessed in this session is a total negation of that," he said in a statement

Arun Jaitley, a spokesman for the BJP, told reporters that his party's attempt was to "shake the conscience of this country."

Before the current session India's Parliament was less productive only in the winter session of 2010, when it wasroiled by the cellphone spectrum scandal, "not even a day's work was done," said Devika Malik, a spokeswoman for PRS Legislative Research.

"This year is only marginally better."