Sitharaman accuses Oppn of creating 'false narrative' in Rajya Sabha; Lok Sabha passes arbitration amendment bill
The Rajya Sabha has been adjourned till 8 March with Chairman Venkaiah Naidu saying that the Upper House clocked 99 percent productivity during the two-week-long sitting of the two-phased Budget session
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman accused the Opposition of creating a "false narrative" about the Centre favouring businessmen and industrialists, in her reply to the debate on the Union Budget in the Rajya Sabha on Friday. Meanwhile, the Lok Sabha passed the Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Bill, 2021 with a voice vote.
Additionally, BJP MPs in the Lok Sabha moved a privilege motion against Congress MP Rahul Gandhi for observing a two-minute tribute to farmers who have lost their lives during the sustained protest against the farm laws.
The former Congress chief had led MPs of the Congress, DMK, and TMC in observing a tribute to the farmers on Thursday. On Friday, BJP MP Sanjay Jaiswal moved a privilege motion notice against Rahul, citing a "serious breach of privilege and contempt of the House" The Hindu reported. Another BJP MP Rakesh Singh was quoted as saying that Gandhi should have taken permission to observe a two-minute silence.
The Rajya Sabha has been adjourned till 8 March, when it will begin the second leg of its session on the Budget. PTI quoted Chairman Venkaiah Naidu as saying that the Upper House clocked 99 percent productivity during the two-week-long sitting of the dual-phase Budget session.
Sitharaman replies to debate on Budget in Rajya Sabha
The Union Finance Minister said that the Union Budget 2021 "fiscal has provided stimulus to the economy for a sustainable high growth rate".
She also took on former finance minister P Chidambaram for questioning the numbers in her Budget, and said that unlike the UPA regime when an "artificial" increase in capital spending was shown to project growth and subsidy, the Budget for 2021-22 "brings transparency" by bringing all spending on book.
She added that spending on the defence sector for the fiscal beginning 1 April, has been 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.
"A false narrative is created to accuse that this government works only for cronies," the finance minister said as she reeled out statistics to show the government's pro-poor policies.
Taking on Chidambaram, who in his speech had called the numbers in the Budget "suspect", Sitharaman said the former finance minister during his term in 2007-08 showed Rs 40,000 crore fiscally neutral transaction of acquiring the RBI's stake in SBI under capital expenditure to show a 62 percent growth in spending.
If this is taken out, "growth rate was only 9 percent", she said, asking if that was not "suspect".
She said her Budget for 2021-22 has provided the highest capex growth of 34.4 percent by providing more money to railways, roads and defence, and not Chidambaram's.
"That was the wrong statement to make. We have not done fiscal routing," she said.
"Also, during the UPA era, oil companies, fertiliser units and the Food Corporation of India were issued special bonds to clear their subsidy dues and these bonds did not reflect in the government budget."
"False narratives were created," she said.
"Prime Minister Modi does not depend on fudging," she said adding there was a lot of "grudge" in the former finance minister's speech.
"Grudge not to recognise how Prime Minister handled corona crisis", that results in fewer deaths per million and lower active cases when countries have seen wave after wave, she said.
Sitharaman further said the benefit of rural roads, free gas and electricity connection, and direct benefit transfer does not go to the rich.
More than 1.67 crore houses for the poor were constructed under the PM Awas Yojana, 2.67 crore households provided electricity connections, 8 crore rural women households given free cooking gas LPG connection and 9 crores got scholarships, the finance minister told the Upper House.
"Is that for the rich?" she said.
She said that as much as 2.11 lakh kilometres of rural roads were built in the last six years, and asked if those villages were for the rich.
"It has now become sort of habit for some in Opposition to constantly allege (wrongdoing) in spite of steps taken to help the poor and needy in the country," she said. "Budgetary provisions are made for poor, Dalits, tribals and the students."
The Budget is an "instrument" to attain Aatmanirbhar Bharat (self-reliant India) and provides an economy battered by pandemic a "strong stimulus" of a record capital spending on demand-creating infrastructure building that can bring "multiplier effect".
She also cited data to drill holes in Congress' claims for the rural employment guarantee scheme MGNREGA, saying actual spending from 2009-10 to 2014-15 was lower than budgeted.
TMC MP resigns from Rajya Sabha
Trinamool Congress MP Dinesh Trivedi Friday resigned from his Rajya Sabha seat just a couple of months before the Assembly polls in West Bengal. He said he is "feeling suffocated" in a party that is "no longer in the hands of" its chief and West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
His resignation came two days after he had endorsed Prime Minister Modi's speech in Lok Sabha in which he called for a key role of the private sector.
Trivedi, who represented West Bengal in Rajya Sabha for the third time and was a former railway minister, announced his resignation in the House during a debate on the Union Budget, saying he "cannot speak about the violence in his state".
He handed over his resignation to Naidu and it has been accepted. He explained to Naidu that he resigned of his own will and there is no pressure on him to do so.
Minutes after his resignation, BJP general secretary and party's West Bengal in-charge Kailash Vijayvargiya said Trivedi is welcome in the party. Assembly election in West Bengal is due in April-May.
Mallikarjun Kharge likely to be Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha
Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge is likely to be the Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, succeeding Ghulam Nabi Azad, whose tenure will come to an end on Monday.
Congress president Sonia Gandhi has written to Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu for appointing Kharge to the post as Azad is retiring.
Azad was elected to the Upper House from Jammu and Kashmir, which does not have an Assembly currently after it was made a Union Territory with the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution.
Kharge, a Dalit leader from Karnataka, was the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha from 2014 to 2019. The party could not get the leader of Opposition's post in the previous and the current Lok Sabha as its numbers were less than the mandated 10 per cent of the total number of seats in the Lower House.
Kharge will be the 17th Leader of the Opposition in Rajya Sabha since December, 1969.
The Lower House of the Parliament began today's sitting at 4 pm. Union ministers Prakash Javadekar and Harsh Vardhan were questioned during the Question Hour on the Centre's steps to combat climate change and air pollution, and the progress in setting up AIIMS facilities all over the country, respectively.
In the time allotted for the Private Members' Bill, the House also discussed increasing welfare measures for aanganwadi workers and helpers. MPs pitched for higher wages for the aanganwadi employees.
On Saturday, the Lower House will hear Sitharaman's reply on the Budget debate at 10 am.
The BJP has also issued a whip to all its members in the Lok Sabha, asking them to be present in the House all day on Saturday.
Citing "very important legislative business" which is scheduled to be taken up, the whip said, "All BJP members in Lok Sabha are hereby informed that some very important Legislative Business will be taken up for discussion and passing in the Lok Sabha on Saturday, 13 February, 2021. All members of BJP in Lok Sabha are, therefore, requested to be positively present in the House throughout the day from 10 am onwards on Saturday and support the government’s stand."
Lok Sabha passes Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Bill, 2021
The Lok Sabha on Friday passed a bill to amend the arbitration law with Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad saying foreign arbitrators are welcome in India.
The bill, officially named 'Arbitration and Conciliation (Amendment) Bill, 2021', seeks to ensure that all stakeholders get an opportunity to seek an unconditional stay on enforcement of arbitral awards where the agreement or contract is "induced by fraud or corruption".
Prasad said the bill seeks to check fly-by-night operators who take advantage of the law to get favourable award by fraud. The bill intends to replace an ordinance issued on 4 November, 2020.
Responding to a debate on the bill in the Lok Sabha, the minister said he would like to make it clear that foreign arbitrators are welcome in India.
"India welcomes arbitrators from any nationality," he said.
The bill was passed by a voice vote and statutory resolution opposing the ordinance was rejected by the House.
Among other things, the bill, which amends the Arbitration and Conciliation Act, 1996, seeks to do away with the 8th Schedule of the Act which contained the necessary qualifications for accreditation of arbitrators.
The qualifications for accreditation of arbitrators, as per the bill, is proposed to be prescribed by regulations to be framed by an arbitration council to be set up.
Till recently, an arbitration award was enforceable even if an appeal was filed against it in the court under Section 36 of the law. But the court could grant a stay on the award on conditions as it deemed fit.
As per the proposed amendment, if the award is being given on the basis of an agreement based on fraud or corruption, then the court will not impose a condition to stay the award and grant an unconditional stay during the pendency of the appeal if it has been challenged under Section 34 of the arbitration law.
The bill, according to the statement of objects and reasons, provides for "unconditional stay of enforcement of arbitral awards, where the underlying arbitration agreement, contracts or arbitral award is induced by fraud or corruption".
With inputs from PTI
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