Amid protests, former sprinter P.T. Usha took the oath in the Rajya Sabha
New Delhi: Business in both the Houses of Parliament remained suspended for the third consecutive day due to adjournments over the protests by the Opposition parties. The Opposition members in both the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha protested against the rising food and commodity prices and the latest revision in the goods & services tax (GST).
The Rajya Sabha was adjourned for the day in the morning itself. In the Lok Sabha, MPs raised slogans to protest against the price hike and GST rates. Members from the Opposition parties trooped into the well of the House carrying packets of milk, buttermilk, butter and curd to protest against the levying of GST on these. They also carried posters that read, "Gabbar Singh strikes again."
Speaker Om Birla told the protesting members that he would give them the opportunity to raise the issues during the Zero Hour. "This House is for discussions and not for shouting slogans. This kind of conduct is not appropriate for the decorum of the House and there is a process to be followed by the members," he said.
Mr Birla further said he was ready to give time for discussion "as per rules", but not if the chaos continued.
Later, Opposition MPs, including Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and members of NCP, DMK, Left, TMC staged a protest at the Gandhi statue in the Parliament complex, carrying packets of milk, curd, and other food items. The Congress has alleged that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is increasing household expenditure while shying away from a discussion on it in Parliament.
Mr Gandhi attacked the Prime Minister over the imposition of GST on packaged food items, saying the PM who listens to even the unsaid words of "friends" will also have to listen to the people and take back this move. He said the recipe of "Gabbar" for people struggling with inflation is to make less, eat less and "satisfy hunger with the tadka of jumlas." Mr Gandhi added that it is "cruel" on the part of the government to raise taxes on some essential items of consumption, as it will lead to a further rise in inflation.
BJP ministers condemned the Opposition, particularly the Congress, for causing disruptions. Parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi hit out at the protesting Opposition members in the Lok Sabha, stating that it was not right for members to march into the well despite the Speaker's assurances that they will be allowed their issues later.
Union commerce minister Piyush Goyal said the government is not running away from debate on price rise and GST and the issues can be taken up in Parliament once finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman recovers from COVID-19.
Both Mr Goyal and Mr Joshi noted that it is Ms Sitharaman who will reply to a debate on the matter and asserted that the government is willing for the discussion as demanded by the Opposition once she recovers and is back in Parliament.
They refuted the Opposition's charge and attacked the Congress, the largest Opposition party.
"The Congress has a destructive attitude towards democracy. It was exposed from Jairam Ramesh's tweet that the Congress was successful in not allowing the House to function," Mr Goyal, who is the Leader of House in Rajya Sabha, told reporters outside parliament.
Mr Joshi said the Congress is not interested in a constructive debate but in "destructive damage".
He said the Opposition should follow the procedure for having the debate. The Rajya Sabha Chairperson and the Lok Sabha Speaker have also expressed their readiness for the discussion but the Opposition should follow the norms, he said.
Earlier in the day, Union minister Smriti Irani launched a sharp attack on Mr Gandhi over his party members' vociferous protests in Parliament, leading to frequent adjournments in both Houses.
"He may be unproductive politically but he should not dare to continuously curb Parliament's productivity," she said alleging that Mr Gandhi's political life has been dotted with a show of disrespect to parliamentary procedures and traditions. He is now adamant to bring down the productivity of the Lok Sabha, she told reporters.
The opposition has demanded the rollback of five per cent GST on pre-packaged and labelled food items such as cereals, pulses and flour weighing less than 25 kg. For a commodity measured in litres like curd and 'lassi, the limit is 25 litres.
Defending the government, Mr Goyal pointed out that the ministers of the Congress-ruled states were part of the GST council, which gave the nod for the levy.
Amid protests, former sprinter P.T. Usha took the oath in the Rajya Sabha. She was nominated to the Upper House last week.