Parliament’s winter session started on an acrimonious note Thursday with both houses being adjourned for the day after an aggressive opposition demanded a vote on foreign direct investment (FDI) in multi-brand retail. Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha witnessed repeated disruptions before being adjourned till Friday.
Lok Sabha was adjourned for the day at 2 p.m. after being adjourned four times as the BJP, CPI-M and Trinamool Congress members pressed for a vote on the issue of allowing 51 percent foreign equity in multi-brand retail.
Trinamool joined the protest after its no-confidence motion against the government was rejected by the Lok Sabha.
Speaker Meira Kumar said the notices were under consideration. Earlier, Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) members rushed towards the speaker’s podium. While the SP was demanding withdrawal of LPG price hike, the BSP wanted the house adjourned over the law and order situation in Uttar Pradesh.
Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj urged Speaker Meira Kumar to allow her party’s notice for a debate on the FDI in retail under Rule 184, which entails voting. CPI-M members raised slogans making a similar demand.
The Rajya Sabha too saw heated exchanges.
Minutes before the winter session began, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said the government was willing to discuss all issues in parliament and sought the cooperation of all parties for the smooth functioning of the winter session. However, his appeal fell on deaf ears.
Expressing the hope that members of the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha would “come together and address the issues and challenges that we face as a nation”, Manmohan Singh said: “We are ready to discuss all issues on the floor of both houses.”
Addressing reporters outside parliament ahead of the beginning of the winter session, he appealed for smooth functioning of parliament and said: “We all have an obligation, both in opposition as well as in the government, to work together to enable our parliamentary democracy, of which we are genuinely proud, to grapple with the formidable challenges faced by our country.”
“Our country faces many problems on the economic front arising out of the consequences of global economic slow-down. We need to create new jobs on a large scale to provide gainful employment to our youth,” he said.
There was, he added, the need “to increase investments in infrastructure and social service like health and education to accelerate the tempo of social economic growth”.
“Our government is committed to these thoughts for success requires cohesive collective action on the part of all segments of our politics. I invite all political parties to join hands in this vital national endeavour,” he added.
The winter session ends Dec 20. With a shorter time-frame of 16 working days and a heavy agenda of 35 bills -- 25 listed for consideration and passing and 10 for introduction -- the government hopes it would be able to pass important bills, especially those related to economic reforms.
BJP slams government
BJP Thursday slammed the Congress-led UPA government on the issue of foreign direct investment (FDI) in retail and demanded a discussion in parliament on the vexed issue under a rule which entails voting.
“The government did not consult other parties on FDI. It is going back on its word of building a consensus on FDI in retail,” Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley said. He was addressing reporters after a stormy first-day of the winter session of parliament.
Jaitley also questioned the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s assertion that an executive decision (FDI in retail) could not be a subject for debate after the opposition demanded discussion in the Lok Sabha on FDI in retail under a rule which entails voting.
“Why is the government so scared to debate the issue in parliament? There will definitely be a vote on this issue,” he remarked. Jaitley said that the decision for bringing in FDI in retail could prove disastrous for India’s economy.
“The stores that come up as a result of this will be owned by Americans and Europeans. The material in them will be Chinese manufactured. Only the salesmen and women would be Indian,” said Jaitley.
He also took pot shots on retail-giant Walmart which plans to open stores in India if the move for FDI-in-retail by the government succeeds.
“Some months back, Walmart tried to open stores in Manhattan, New York City but was bitterly opposed and hence did not succeed. If this is the reaction to Walmart in America’s largest city, imagine the reaction when Walmart tries to open branches in other cities of the world,” said Jaitley.
He also gave the example of Thailand’s experience with multi-brand retail. “Thailand opened up to multi-brand retail in 2001. Today, three chains control 45 per cent of the Thai market,” he said.
Jaitley also slammed the government’s argument that bringing FDI in retail would do away with middle men.
“They say that middle men will be done away with. Let us take the example of milk. In England and America, the profits from the sale of milk products brings maximum profit for the retailer with hardly anything going to the producer.
Conversely in India, brands like Amul and Verka ensure that the producer gets the major profit. If we bring in FDI in retail, we will go the way of England and America,” he said.
Jaitley said the government’s moves such as FDI in retail being done in the name of reform was an anomaly.
“We in India usually accept western definitions of reform.
When America acts protectively, we never ask them as to why they do not reform their economies by throwing open their economy to the forces of the free market. We will have to rewrite the definition of reform in our own context,” he said.
Jaitley also refused to accept the government’s move to let state governments decide individually on FDI in retail. “Investment may be a state subject. But FDI is a central subject,” he said.