The Centre is eyeing a huge legislative agenda for the Monsoon Session of Parliament starting today with at least 17 new bills listed for introduction even as the Opposition looks to corner the ruling dispensation over a slew of issues including its handling of the second wave of COVID-19 and the rise in fuel prices.
From the important bills slated to be taken up by the Centre to the shadow of COVID-19 looming large and the Opposition's talking points to take on the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, here's a brief look at what you can expect during this session of Parliament slated to run from 19 July to 13 August:
Of the 17 bills, The Essential Defence Service Bill, 2021, The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Bill, 2021 and Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Bill, 2021 seek to replace ordinances issued recently.
Once a session starts, an ordinance has to be passed as a bill within 42 days or six weeks, else it lapses.
The Essential Defence Service Bill, 2021 has been listed to replace the ordinance, according to a Lok Sabha bulletin issued on 12 July.
The Essential Defence Services Ordinance 2021 issued on 30 June came in the backdrop of the announcement by major federations of the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) to go on an indefinite strike from the later part of July to protest the government's decision to corporatise the OFB.
Why it is important: The ordinance prohibits any agitation and strike by anyone engaged in the essential defence services. The bill listed to replace it is of vital national importance.
The Commission for Air Quality Management in National Capital Region and Adjoining Areas Bill, 2021 is another measure that seeks to replace an ordinance.
As per the Centre, the ordinance was introduced to establish a self-regulated, democratically monitored mechanism for tackling air pollution in NCR and adjoining areas rather than limited ad-hoc measures.
Why it is important: The bill, which seeks the establishment of a commission for Air Quality Management to streamline public participation, inter-State cooperation, expert involvement and persistent research and innovation, is yet another attempt to sort out Delhi-NCR's air pollution problem.
Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Bill, 2021: This bill proposes a pre-packaged insolvency resolution process for corporate debtors classified as micro, small or medium enterprises under the MSME Development Act, 2006.
Why it is important: The Centre says it will ensure "quicker, cost-effective and value maximising outcomes for all the stakeholders, in a manner which is least disruptive to the continuity of their businesses and which preserves jobs".
Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens (Amendment) Bill, 2019: The bill seeks to bring step-children, adoptive children, children-in-law, and legal guardians of minor children under the definition of children with regard to the Senior Citizens Act, 2007. It also allows for children and relatives of senior citizens to appeal tribunal decisions.
Why it is important: The bill will help provide some clarity in the aftermath of some conflicting decisions rendered by some high courts.
COVID-19 shadow looms large
Amid the pandemic, Rajya Sabha earlier sat in the first half of the day, and Lok Sabha in the second half. But from part two of the Budget session in March, the two Houses had started sitting simultaneously from their usual timing of 11 am onwards. This time also, both Houses will sit simultaneously.
- During the session, all COVID-related protocols, which include maintaining social distancing, would be followed, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla said.
- Birla said those that have not yet been vaccinated against the coronavirus will be requested to undergo an RT-PCR test prior to entering the premises of the House and that the facility for RT-PCR test will be available in the Parliament House complex.
- Those who have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine will not be required to undertake the RT-PCR test, he added.
- According to latest data, 444 members from Lok Sabha and 218 from Rajya Sabha have been vaccinated with at least one dose. The figures may have gone up, officials said.
- Birla further said due to the restrictions to be put in place in view of COVID-19, visitors will not be allowed during the Monsoon Session of Parliament.
- Since the outbreak of the Covid pandemic, three sessions of Parliament were curtailed, while the Winter Session last year had to be cancelled.
- The Monsoon Session, which usually starts in July, began in September last year owing to the pandemic situation
Opposition's targets Centre's handling of COVID-19 pandemic, rise in fuel prices
The Opposition on its part wants to corner the government by raising issues like alleged shortcomings in the healthcare system during the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic and the distribution of COVID vaccines to states.
Last week, a slew of states including Delhi, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Odisha complained of vaccine shortages.
Some states like Rajasthan, West Bengal and Maharashtra, which recorded the highest number of COVID-19 cases on Monday, have raised the need for more vaccine doses. Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said the state needed a minimum of three crore vaccine doses per month to inoculate the entire eligible population against coronavirus at the earliest.
COVID-19 inoculation sessions were not conducted in at least 25 of Rajasthan's 33 districts on Monday due to vaccine shortage, a state official said. A senior West Bengal health department official also said that the state government was finding it difficult to evenly distribute the doses among its 23 districts.
This, even as Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya on Wednesday said "useless"' statements are being made only to create panic among the people, and asserted that states know very well when and in what quantity they will get the doses.
Meanwhile, Samiran Panda, a top scientist at the Indian Council of Medical Research on Saturday warned that the third wave of COVID-19 would hit India around August-end and that the country could possibly register nearly 1 lakh cases per day.
"In the current situation, if the virus doesn't mutate to lead to more transmissibility, the situation will be similar to the first wave," Panda told India Today. He added that the situation could worsen if the virus mutates further.
Asked about the plausibility of such an assessment, Panda said mathematical modelling done by the ICMR and the Imperial College London has indicated that low vaccination rates and easing restrictions will lead to a possible surge in COVID-19 cases, but added that it may not be as severe as the second wave. "Without vaccinations getting ramped up and when restrictions are eased, there will be a chance of the third wave," Panda added.
Why it matters: As of today, just 5.9 percent of India's population is fully vaccinated against the dreaded virus, while 23.3 percent have received their first dose. It remains to be seen if India can get enough jabs in arms to delay or even ward off the third third wave of COVID-19 .
The Opposition will also seek replies on the rising prices of petrol, diesel and cooking gas during the Session.
On Sunday, petrol and diesel prices remained unchanged in the country. In Delhi, the petrol price remained was Rs 101.54 a litre, while the rate of diesel was at Rs 89.87. In Mumbai, petrol cost Rs 107.54 per litre and diesel Rs 97.45 for one litre.
Why it matters: Petrol prices have increased eight times in this month. Fuel prices have been on the rise across the country after the Assembly elections in states and Union Territories including West Bengal, Kerala, Assam, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry ended on 4 May. The rising prices of fuel, which will pinch the common man the most, is an opportunity for the Opposition to try to dent the popularity of the prime minister.
'Ready for healthy discussion'
The Centre on Sunday convened an all-party meet ahead of the Monsoon session of Parliament with Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi inviting leaders of political parties for the meet in which Prime Minister Narendra Modi was present.
Modi on Sunday said the Centre was ready for a healthy and meaningful discussion in Parliament on various issues. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi quoted the prime minister at the meeting to say that the various floor leaders were told that the government was ready for a healthy and meaningful discussion on various issues raised as per rules and procedures.
At the meeting attended by 33 parties, the prime minister said suggestions from public representatives, especially from the Opposition, are valuable as they make the discussion rich.
Besides Modi, defence minister Rajnath Singh, Union minister and Leader of House in Rajya Sabha Piyush Goyal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Joshi were present at the meeting.
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and Leader of Congress in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury also attended the meeting. Floor leaders of all prominent opposition parties, including Derek O' Brien from the TMC, Tiruchi Siva from the DMK, Samajwadi Party leader Ram Gopal Yadav and BSP's Satish Mishra were also present.
Apna Dal leader and NDA ally Anupriya Patel and LJP leader Pashupati Paras also attended the meeting.
On day one of the session, the prime minister will introduce the newly inducted ministers to both the Houses. It is the convention that after the formation of a new government or an expansion or reshuffle in the Union Council of Ministers, the prime minister introduces new ministers in both the Houses.
This, a day after Vice-President and Rajya Sabha chairman M Venkaiah Naidu urged members of Parliament to stand by people amid the pandemic and discuss all issues related to it in the House to address the concerns of the citizens. Chairing a meeting of leaders of various parties and groups in Rajya Sabha ahead of the session, he also asked the leaders to ensure a smooth and productive session.
"A dysfunctional Parliament adds to the prevailing gloom and hence all sections of the House should ensure a smooth and productive session as it offers an opportunity to address the concerns of the people affected by COVID-19," he told leaders.
Noting that the second wave of COVID-19 infection sprang several surprises and severely tested India's health infrastructure, Naidu said Parliament is the right forum to get updated about various aspects of fighting the disease and benefit from ground-level experiences of members of the House from different states. This is important in the context of a possible third wave of infection which is being talked about a lot, he said.
With inputs from PTI