Scandals cloud new session of India parliament


India’s new session of parliament got off to a volatile start Monday, even as the prime minister appealed for help in passing key legislation on corruption and land acquisition.
The lower house adjourned almost immediately out of respect for an MP who died during the recess, while opposition MPs forced the upper house to adjourn with noisy protests over a spate of corruption scams. The 39-day monsoon session is expected to debate 32 new laws including the hard-fought Lokpal Bill, which if passed will arm a national ombudsman with powers to punish corrupt politicians and officials. “My appeal to the opposition is let us unite on this occasion to tackle jointly, collectively major problems that our nation is faced with,” Premier Manmohan Singh told reporters ahead of the session.
Singh’s government is expected to unveil a land acquisition bill that would offer farmers more cash for their properties to make way for industrial projects. It also plans to introduce a new food security bill that would guarantee subsidised grain for the poor.
Despite Singh’s plea, members from the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) disrupted proceedings in the upper house, demanding action over a series of scandals that have implicated top government officials.
The BJP forced adjournments on every day of the winter session in December 2010 to demand a cross-party probe into a telecom scandal, in which mobile phone licences were allegedly sold off in 2008 for a fraction of their value.
BJP spokesman Arun Jaitley made it clear that the disruptions were likely to continue in the current session. “The prime minister has to answer, the finance minister must answer and we intend raising the issue in both houses,” he told reporters. Singh had argued that corruption cases being dealt with by the judiciary should not be discussed in parliament. “I also hope matters which are in the courts should be best left to the courts to decide and I am hoping the discussions will be productive and constructive,” Singh said.
Former telecom minister, A. Raja, is currently on trial for his alleged role in the phone licence scam. A law on wildlife protection, another to enhance road safety and a draft bill are also expected to be discussed in the current session.