First phase of Budget session ends; Amit Shah terms J&K Centre's 'top priority', Sitharaman speaks on push for 'self-reliance'

The Rajya Sabha was adjourned till 8 March on Friday. Both Houses of Parliament will reconvene for the second leg of the Budget session on 8 March

FP Staff February 13, 2021 19:21:28 IST
First phase of Budget session ends; Amit Shah terms J&K Centre's 'top priority', Sitharaman speaks on push for 'self-reliance'

Union Home Minister Amit Shah replied to a debate in the Lok Sabha on Saturday. Lok Sabha TV

The first leg of the Budget session of Parliament ended with Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman speaking in the Lok Sabha on 'reforms' and the push for 'self-reliance'.

Meanwhile, Union Home Minister Amit Shah on Saturday stated that the Centre will "definitely" restore the statehood of Jammu and Kashmir "at the appropriate time".

Shah was addressing MPs during the debate on the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill, 2021. The Bill was later passed by the Lower House through voice vote.

The Rajya Sabha was adjourned till 8 March on Friday. Both Houses of Parliament will reconvene for the second leg of the Budget session on 8 March.

Earlier, in her reply in the debate on the Budget in the Lok Sabha on Saturday, Sitharaman said that the government had been pursuing reforms to achieve "sustained long-term growth" despite the COVID-19 pandemic. She added that the Centre is seeking to make India "one of the top economies of the world in the coming decades".

She added that the Union Budget 2021 has set the pace for India to become self-reliant or aatmanirbhar. Earlier this month, the Finance Minister presented a Rs 34.5 lakh crore Budget for 2021-22, in the backdrop of the pandemic.

Soon after Sitharaman concluded her speech, the Lok Sabha took up the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill, 2021.

The bill, moved by Minister of State for Home Affairs G Kishen Reddy, seeks to merge the Jammu and Kashmir cadre of civil services officers with the Arunachal Pradesh, Goa, Mizoram Union Territory (AGMUT) cadre.

The Budget session usually is held in two phases. In the first phase, the president addresses both the Houses, as it is the first session of the year. The Union Budget is also introduced in phase one.

The recess allows department-related standing committees to examine demands for grants of various ministries. The Finance Bill and related demands for grants are passed in the second phase of the Budget session.

Jammu and Kashmir's statehood will 'definitely' be restored, says Amit Shah

Shah addressed various concerns raised in the debate on the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation (Amendment) Bill, 2021 in the Lok Sabha on Saturday.

He said that the Modi government has done more for Jammu and Kashmir since Article 370 was scrapped in August 2019, than those who ruled it for generations. He also listed developmental projects undertaken in the Union Territory.

Some Opposition members questioned the timeline of when the Centre will restore the region's statehood and stated that the proposed law negates the hopes of the region getting back its status as a state.

"This legislation has nothing to do with statehood, and Jammu and Kashmir will definitely be accorded the status at an appropriate time," Shah said in reply.

He said the region's status as a Union Territory "is temporary". Jammu and Kashmir has been a top priority for the current government since it took power in 2014, he added.

"Decentralisation and devolution of power have taken place in the Union Territory following the revocation of Article 370," Shah said, noting that panchayat elections saw over 51 percent voting. "Panchayats have been given administrative and financial powers for local development, something they lacked earlier," he added.

Now people chosen by the masses will rule Jammu and Kashmir, not those born to "kings and queens", he said, attacking dynastic parties in the region.

Even our rivals could not allege any wrongdoing in these polls which were conducted fairly and peacefully, Shah added, referring to the panchayat polls.

Opposition MPs speak against Jammu and Kashmir reorganisation amendment bill

Raising objections on the bill in the Lok Sabha, Congress MP Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury asked why the Centre had brought in an ordinance. His statement was echoed by the BJD.

Chowdhury said regularly promulgating an ordinance is not good for a parliamentary democracy, as an ordinance should be preceded by an emergency situation or any urgency.

He also slammed the Centre over the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.

"Our point of contention is loud and clear," he said, adding after the abrogation, the government showed a "dream" to the people that they would "make heaven" in Jammu and Kashmir and create jobs there.

"The introduction of this bill reflects that the government took the step of abrogating Article 370 without any preparation," Chowdhury alleged.

The Congress leader said Jammu and Kashmir is a sensitive state and the cadre should be local and officers having ground knowledge should be appointed there. He alleged that "militancy is still prevalent and people are living in an atmosphere of fear".

The government tried to turn Jammu and Kashmir into a large prison, the Opposition leader said, adding they blocked telecommunication services and failed to normalise the situation there. "There is unemployment, restriction, lost avenues and total confusion," Chowdhury added.

He further said the government had promised to bring back Kashmiri Pandits to the Kashmir valley but has failed to ensure their return.

"Please think for Jammu and Kashmir with new ideas and do not take adhoc measures," he said, adding the government should make Jammu and Kashmir a state and create a cadre to appoint officers there.

National Conference MP Hasnain Masoodi also opposed the bill and said it is "akin to an assault on the people of Jammu and Kashmir".

"You are continuously increasing confusion...What is the objective of this bill? ...You are taking Jammu and Kashmir towards uncertainty through this bill," he said, adding appointed officers should have connect with the ground realities.

He added that the government should restore the position of Jammu and Kashmir to that prior to 5 August, 2019.

Rahul Gandhi becoming 'doomsday man' for India, says Sitharaman

In the Lok Sabha on Saturday, Sitharaman said that her Budget has provided the highest capex growth of 34.4 percent by providing more money to railways, roads and defence.

Emphasising that sustained commitment to reform is blended in the Budget, she said, "Reforms are going to lay a path for India to be one of the top economies of the world in the coming decades."

On the government's handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sitharaman said, "The death rates are the lowest in the world, active cases have come down... we have actually managed to bend the curve. And as a result, the revival of the economy looks a lot more sustainable and this Budget gives necessary impetus."

Responding to the charge of crony capitalism, the minister said that the government under Narendra Modi "works for common people and not for cronies".

Addressing criticism of cut in spending on defence for the fiscal beginning 1 April, she said it has increased both on revenue and capital side and there is a decline only in provision for pensions as the previous year's spending included payment of arrears for the one-rank-one-pension (OROP) scheme.

On defence, she said revenue expenditure budgeted for 2021-22, is 1.3 percent more than the previous year and capital spending is 18.8 percent higher.

Apart from replying on the Budget debate, Sitharaman also hit out at Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. She said Gandhi is becoming a "doomsday man" for India, by "constantly insulting constitutional functionaries and creating fake narratives on various issues".

She added that the former Congress chief does not have patience to listen to replies on allegations levelled against the government.

"We need to recognise these two tendencies of the Congress party. One is creating fake narratives and second, lack of belief in a democratically elected Parliamentary system.

"In banks, you did phone banking and left huge NPAs. This is one tendency, create institutions and use them for 'Hum Do Hamare Do' and at the end of the day keep accusing others," she said.

'Hum Do Hamare Do' expression was used by Gandhi in his speech on Thursday, during the general debate on the Budget, referring to the fact that only four persons are ruling this country including two business houses.

Retorting to this, Sitharaman said this expression "fits the Gandhi family".

With regard to the tendency of Congress, she said, "we will put allegations, use abusive language, but when under Parliamentary procedure they have to respond to... they only shout and walk out."

She criticised the Congress for inconsistency in their approach in the two houses of Parliament.

"The same party in Rajya Sabha takes part in Budget discussion and asks questions and listens to answers... why that does not happen in Lok Sabha... why take different positions in Rajya Sabha and Lok Sabha... what is this," she wondered.

Responding to Gandhi's speech on Thursday, during which he talked about farm laws but declined to speak on the Budget, she said, "he is probably becoming a doomsday man for India."

Centre introduces bill to abolish five tribunals in Lok Sabha

A bill to abolish some tribunals, where public at large is not litigant, was introduced in the Lok Sabha by Minister of State for Finance Anurag Singh Thakur on Saturday.

The government proposes to wind up five tribunals, including Airport Appellate Tribunal, Authority for Advance Rulings and Intellectual Property Appellate Board. The Appellate Tribunal under the Cinematograph Act and Plant Varieties Protection Appellate Tribunal will also be abolished.

The proposed law seeks to amend the Cinematograph Act, 1952, the Customs Act, 1962, the Airports Authority of India Act, 1994, the Trade Marks Act, 1999 and the Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers' Rights Act, 2001 and certain other Acts.

"With a view to streamline tribunals, the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Bill, 2021 is proposed to be enacted to abolish certain tribunals and authorities and to provide a mechanism for filing appeal directly to the commercial court or the High Court, as the case may be," the statement of objects and reason said.

Observing that these tribunals only add an additional layer of litigation, it said having separate tribunal requires administrative action in terms of filling up of posts and such other matters, and any delay in such action further delays disposal of cases.

"Reducing the number of tribunals shall not only be beneficial for the public at large, reduce the burden on public exchequer, but also address the issue of shortage of supporting staff of tribunals and infrastructure," it said.

The Bill proposes the transfer of all cases pending before such tribunals or authorities to the Commercial Court or the High Court on the appointed date.

With inputs from PTI

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