Rajya Sabha, Parliament’s Upper House, will hold the first debate on Covid-19 on Wednesday amid the criticism the government has faced from the Opposition over the handling of the pandemic. It was not immediately clear how much time would be allotted for the discussion.
The government is expected to defend its handling of the situation and highlight its successes in keeping the Covid-19 death rate lowest among major nations.
The Congress has objected to Rajya Sabha chairman Venkaiah Naidu’s move to club clarifications on health minister Harsh Vardhan’s statement on the pandemic with a debate on Covid-19.
India’s Covid-19 tally crossed the five million mark as 91,136 new cases were reported on Tuesday when the toll from the pandemic mounted to 82,091. The cases have continued to rise at an alarming rate.
India’s tally is behind only the US, which is the worst-hit country with 6.76 million confirmed infections. India accounts for nearly one-sixth of all Covid-19 cases recorded worldwide since the outbreak originated in China nine months ago. The country also has the worst-ever daily infection rate recorded anywhere in the world.
The Congress has demanded a separate, full-fledged discussion on the loss of livelihoods of millions because of the pandemic and Indian economy’s contraction by 23.9% in the June quarter, the steepest in four decades.
“If we cannot have a full-fledged discussion on the Covid-19 situation without being circumscribed by the minister’s statement what is the point of having this session of Rajya Sabha in the first place?” Congress chief whip, Jairam Ramesh, said in a letter to Naidu on Tuesday.
He said the decision to combine the debate with clarifications on the statement “runs contrary to what V Muraleedharan [junior minister for parliamentary affairs] had assured me this morning that the two will be taken up separately”.
Ramesh sought a minimum four-hour debate on Covid-19. “In the BAC [Business Advisory Committee meeting] held on September 13, you yourself had said that it is very important to have a discussion on the prevailing public health situation. Today’s decision of yours goes against the spirit of your own statement.”
The Institute of Teaching and Research in Ayurveda Bill and the Salaries and Allowances of Ministers (Amendment) Bill have separately been listed for passage in the Upper House on Wednesday.
In the Lok Sabha, fireworks are expected as the government has listed three contentious bills for passage: The Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill, the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill.
The Congress and other opposition parties have opposed the bills to replace related ordinances even as many experts have hailed them as reformist legislation to unshackle Indian farmers.
Congress leaders have maintained the move will only help corporate buyers of crops and weaken the Minimum Support Price, which protects farmers from any fall in prices.
Congress government in Punjab and its Haryana state unit have also objected to the legislation amid farmer protests against the proposed new laws.
Left parties have staged protests both inside and outside the Parliament and they too would oppose the bills.
The Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill is another flashpoint. The Congress has raised five major objections related to it. It has said cooperative banks are part of the structure of cooperatives and ought to be regulated by the state governments and not by the Centre. “If the ordinance becomes law, all key financial intermediaries will come under the control of the Central Government, there will be more centralisation. Congress Party stands for decentralisation and for empowering states,” the party said in a statement last week.