Govt Calls All-Party Meet to Seek Views on Duration of Budget Session

Government has called an all-party meeting on February 4 to discuss the duration of the budget session of Parliament in view of assembly elections in five states.

The meeting will be held before the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs, headed by Home Minister Rajnath Singh, meets to finalise a broad schedule of the session which is likely to begin on February 23.

In a letter to opposition leaders, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu said he would like to seek their advice regarding “ensuing budget session that is coinciding with the election schedule of five states”.

Government sources say there are precedents when the budget session had been held without a break but declined to divulge whether the all-party meeting has been called to achieve a consensus for a similar approach.

Usually, the budget session begins in the third week of February and concludes early May. There is a recess in between when the budgetary demands for grants are discussed in the committees.

However, the process for the assembly elections in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry, where the tenure of the assemblies is set to end in May-June, will begin in the midst of the session and that could raise questions about the number of sittings.

A curtailment may be necessary to accommodate campaign by leaders during the elections. The other option could be doing away with the recess between the two parts of the budget session in order to finish it before the schedule of assembly polls.

Government’s efforts to reach out to the Opposition came at a time when the opposition parties have decided to corner it on issues like imposition of President’s Rule in Congress-ruled Arunachal Pradesh and the suicide by a Dalit student in Hyderabad Central University.

Raising questions over the process of the appointment of Vice Chancellors in JNU and Delhi University, a number of Opposition parties have also came together against the government, accusing it of “undermining” the autonomy of the institutions.

The main focus of the session will be the transaction of General and Railway Budgets but the government is also keen to get passed a number of key reforms measures including the contentious GST and Real Estate Bills.

The General Budget is expected to be presented in the Lok Sabha on February 29, the last day of February, as is the practice traditionally.

Against the backdrop of near washout of the previous sessions, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had on January 30 expressed the hope that Congress will “see reason” and help in the passage of GST legislation, which is stuck in the Rajya Sabha.

Venkaiah Naidu had earlier this month met Congress President Sonia Gandhi seeking cooperation for the early passage of the crucial GST Bill and the Real Estate Bill.

The winter session had ended on December 23, leaving the Goods and Services Tax Bill and a number of other measures in a limbo.

The government’s legislative agenda had suffered a serious setback due to lack of support from the numerically stronger Congress-led opposition in the Rajya Sabha. This had prompted Jaitley to raise the question of how an “unelected” House could overrule the mandate of the “elected” House.

In the winter session, the Rajya Sabha saw passage of nine bills but lost 47 hours due to disruptions caused almost every day by Congress which raised one issue after another.

The Lok Sabha performed a little better as it passed 13 bills and saw discussions over various issues like price rise, flood and drought despite repeated uproar by Congress over various issues.

The budget session is also likely to begin on a stormy note. Congress is expected to convene a meeting of opposition leaders ahead of the budget session of Parliament so as to ensure coordination among them on the floor of the House to corner the government on various issues including the Pathankot terror strike.