Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh — AFP Photo
The coal scandal directly embroils the 79-year-old Singh because he served as coal minister as well as prime minister from 2004-2009. Singh denies any wrongdoing and has refused to quit.    — AFP Photo

NEW DELHI: India’s parliament was set to conclude its latest session on Friday after three weeks of protests by the opposition that have prevented debate and deadlocked almost all new legislation.

Opposition lawmakers from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), who are demanding the prime minister resigns over a coal scandal, staged noisy protests for the 16th working day in a row on Friday in both houses of parliament.

The speakers adjourned proceedings until midday and were expected to call an end to the session afterwards.

Parliamentarians have deliberated on legislation for just 25 out of a possible 120 hours during the current monsoon session which began on August 8, according to PRS Legislative Research, a New Delhi-based independent study group.

Only four bills were cleared by both houses, despite as many as 30 being listed for debate on issues such as pensions, land acquisition, tax reform and corruption.

Three of them were cleared inside 20 minutes on Monday without any discussion, in line with a trend since 2009 according to which one in every five bills is passed after a debate of less than five minutes, PRS says.

“Lawmakers did not discuss any bill at length during the session,” M. R Madhavan, a researcher with PRS, told AFP.

The dysfunction of this parliament, which also wasted an entire session in winter 2010 due to protests by the opposition, has led to questions about the health of the world's biggest democracy.

The besieged left-leaning government run by the Congress party has been beset by corruption scandals and is struggling to jumpstart the slowing economy, which expanded by just 5.5 per cent in the April-June quarter.

Urban Development Minister Kamal Nath, who has been in parliament for 32 years, lamented the decline in standards in the assembly, where a fight broke out this week between two regional MPs.

“When I first came into parliament, no matter how contentious it was, there was a serious debate,” he told AFP. “Now the polity is looking at different approaches. It does no good for our democracy.”

The BJP wants Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to resign over the findings of an investigation by the national auditor into the gifting away of coal mining rights to private companies since 2004.

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) says the government should have auctioned the rights to the highest bidder, instead of allocating them in a process that “lacked transparency and objectivity”.

Private operators made windfall gains of 1.86 trillion rupees ($33.4 billion), according to highly contested figures from the auditor, some of which should have gone to the national exchequer.

The coal scandal directly embroils the 79-year-old Singh because he served as coal minister as well as prime minister from 2004-2009.

Singh denies any wrongdoing and has refused to quit.


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