“Country Suffering”: Opposition Protests Over Fuel Prices in Parliament

New Delhi: The second part of the Budget session of Parliament was off to a stormy start today – the Rajya Sabha  was adjourned at 10.02 am, minutes after Question Hour began – as Congress MPs raised slogans demanding a debate over the rise in fuel prices in the past many weeks.

The Upper House then got adjourned three more times before calling it a day in the afternoon. After a break, the two Houses reconvened amid a scorching Assembly polls campaign, continuing farmer protest, and, most importantly, spiking petrol, diesel, and LPG prices.

At least one party, the Trinamool Congress, has sought an adjournment because key state elections are only a few weeks away and MPs may not be able to attend. Although in the past few days, petrol and diesel rates have remained largely unchanged, they’ve been rising continuously over the many weeks.

Several leaders and their parties have been demonstrating against this phenomenon, with many even riding bicycles, bullock carts, and electric scooters to work. Indian Oil Corporation, the country’s largest state-run oil refiner last hiked prices on February 27 to an all time high of ₹ 91.17 in the national capital.

Since then, the rates have remained unchanged across all four metro cities. “I don’t want to take any drastic action on the first day,” Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu said today referring to the protesting Congress MPs. Earlier, Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Mallikarjuna Kharge, raised his party’s concerns over the issue.

He demanded the suspension of the House proceedings to debate this under Rule 257. “The price of petrol is nearly ₹ 100 per litre today. The price of diesel, too, has reached more than ₹80. LPG prices have also increased. Since 2014, a total of ₹ 21 lakh crore have been collected as excise duty.

Because of this, the country is suffering, prices are going up,” Mr Kharge said. he repeated the statement later while talking to NDTV when he added: “The government must make public how and where these huge funds have been spent.” He said besides reining in the fuel price spike, the government ought to ensure it comes down eventually.

Earlier, the Rajya Sabha Chairman rejected his demand saying the issue can be debated “during the course of discussion on the Appropriation bill”. This prompted the Opposition parties to raise slogans. When sloganeering didn’t stop despite requests from the chair, Mr Naidu adjourned the House, first till 11 am and then extended till 1 pm.

It was called off twice again for 15 minutes each on reconvening in the afternoon. Finally, “on the request from many members from various parties”, the Chairman decided a little before 2 pm to adjourn the House for the day and meet again tomorrow at the scheduled time.

The session also began days after the Election Commission announced the poll dates for West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam, and Puducherry Assemblies. The election in these states will be held between March 27 and April 29. The results will be announced on May 2.

Trinamool MPs Sudip Bandyopadhyay and Derek O’Brien have written to the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha authorities, respectively, to adjourn the session due to the elections.

“Due to the ongoing intensive election preparations in the state (West Bengal), Members of Parliament from the All India Trinamool Congress would find it difficult to attend the second part of the Budget Session beginning from 8th March,2021,” Mr O’Brien wrote inhis letter dated March 8 to the Rajya Sabha Chairman. Then there is the matter of the farmers’ agitation which has been on since November last year. Although the intensity of the agitation has apparently come down in the past few weeks, the protesters themselves have refused to budge.

Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, who has led several rounds of negotiations on the three new and  contentious farm laws, yesterday said that the Centre was willing to amend the laws even though that didn’t imply the laws were flawed. The government, on its part, is likely to focus on getting the Finance Bill 2021-22 passed. The session will end on April 8.

The Budget Session commenced with the address of President Ram Nath Kovind on January 29, and the first part ended on February 29. The annual budget was tabled by Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on February 1. The Rajya Sabha will function from 9 am to 2 pm while Lok Sabha will function between 4 pm to 10 pm, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla has informed.

The Lok Sabha clocked 99.5 per cent productivity during the first phase of the session, sitting for 49 hours and 17 minutes  against the stipulated 50 hours. Meanwhile, a Covid-19 vaccination centre for MPs has been set up inside the Parliament complex, a Lok Sabha bulletin has said, adding that it will be voluntary exercise.

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