Let parliament function, Indian PM implores opposition

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 20, 2013 7:49 AM
Let parliament function, Indian PM implores opposition

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pleaded with opposition parties on Wednesday to allow parliament to function during a session that begins this week, when the government plans to present the annual budget and legislation on economic reform.

The last two sessions of India's federal parliament have been disrupted by opposition members protesting against corruption, reforms and affirmative action policies, although the winter session in December finally managed to conduct business for a few days.

The month-long monsoon session in August and September passed only four bills out of 30 due to be debated.

"It is our sincere hope that we will have a productive, constructive debate leading to agreed solutions to the many national problems that our country faces," Singh told reporters after addressing parliamentary leaders from all parties.

"Parliament is a forum for discussion, for dialogue and all parties have an obligation to ensure that parliament runs smoothly."

Singh is grappling with the worst economic slowdown in a decade and faces a general election next year.

The assembly session begins on Thursday with an address by the president. Debates begin on Friday.

The government plans to present bills for insurance and pension reform that will open those industries to more foreign investment and to change land acquisition laws to make it easier for companies to buy land for industrial and infrastructure projects.

It will present the annual budget for the fiscal year ending in March 2014 next week. Also planned are a food security bill to provide subsidized grain for the poor, the setting up of an anti-graft ombudsman and the approval of an ordinance providing for harsher punishment for perpetrators of sex crimes.

The ruling coalition, headed by the Congress party, is technically in a minority but is supported by regional allies.

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The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has led protests in the legislature during previous sessions, has criticized a kickbacks scandal in the $750 million purchase of VIP helicopters from Anglo-Italian company AgustaWestland that erupted last week.

The Hindu nationalist party is, however, most incensed by comments attributed to Home Minister Sushil Shinde that the group was promoting "Hindu terrorism", and has demanded an apology.

"We would like the house to function," top BJP member and opposition leader Sushma Swaraj told reporters.

"There are many issues that the house needs to discuss but it will depend on how this matter is resolved by them," she said of the government.

(Reporting by Annie Banerji and Satarupa Bhattacharjya; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Robert Birsel)