Protests over price hikes, GST on grain and dairy rock parliament again
New Delhi: Both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha faced multiple adjournments on Wednesday July 20, as opposition members – for the third day in a row – agitated to demand a discussion of price hikes and increases goods and services tax rates.
Apart from protests inside the two chambers, opposition lawmakers have also staged protests near statues of Gandhi in the parliament complex.
Opposition protests imposition of GST on daily use items
Ahead of the Chambers meeting, opposition members gathered near the statue of Mahatma Gandhi and protested rising commodity prices. After staging similar protests over the past two days, MPs brought packets of dairy products – curds, milk and buttermilk – to highlight how the tax net has been widened to cover more items of everyday use.
Apart from this, protesters today also displayed gas cylinder cut-outs with past and present slogans and tariffs to criticize the steep price increase and rising GST rates.
They also held up signs that read “Gabbar Singh Tax strikes again” – a version of the acronym GST. Prominent leaders who took part in these protests included Rahul Gandhi, opposition leader in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and Congress leader in Lok Sabha Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
Later when the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha sessions started, some opposition MPs also carried the dairy packages inside the houses. Their anger was directed at the government’s decision to impose a 5% GST on basic food items such as rice, flour, cereals and milk.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman previously said such items would not be taxed when sold in bulk, only when pre-packaged and pre-labeled.
Talk about ‘Amrit Kaal’
In the Lok Sabha, from the start of question time, opposition members insisted that the discussion of the price hike should take place. President Om Birla said he would give them an opportunity during zero hour and demanded that they raise the issues in talks rather than through protests.
Congress MPs Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, Telangana Rashtra Samiti and several leftist parties swarmed the house well shouting slogans.
This elicited a strong response from Birla, who was heard saying, “Only if you go to your seats will you get a chance to speak.”
He also remarked, “The House is for discussing and raising issues, not for throwing slogans and creating chaos.” Furthermore, the Speaker insisted that the display of signs was “a violation of the rules of the House” which harms the “prestige of Parliament”.
The President then told the deputies: “In ‘Amrit Kaal’, people expect a serious discussion from us”. “Amrit Kaal”, which refers to a period of great success according to Vedic astrology, has been used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other members of the Bharatiya Janata Party to indicate good governance.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said it was “not appropriate” for members to continue the protest as the president ensured a discussion later. “Are the protesting members interested in discussions or not?” He asked.
Later, as the protests continued, Birla adjourned the House until 2 p.m.
When the House convened, PV Midhun Reddy was in the chair and he addressed the issues under Rule 377. Amid loud chanting from opposition members, some members of the Treasury benches raised issues related to their constituencies.
The House was then adjourned until 4:00 p.m. by the Speaker.
“Rising prices have hit the common man hard”
In the Rajya Sabha too, opposition MPs protested over the issue of rising prices and GST. When the House convened in the morning, Speaker Mr. Venkaiah Naidu allowed Opposition Leader Kharge to speak briefly on the subject on which he and others had given an opinion under Rule 267. Kharge then explained how the common man, and especially the poor, have been hit hard by rising commodity prices.
Naidu then said that the House Business Advisory Committee (BAC) had accepted a discussion on the price hike.
He said that if the opposition was not interested in a discussion, he would adjourn the debates. Members of the opposition asked that the rest of the items on the agenda be put aside and that the discussion be resumed first.
“You can’t dictate to me,” Naidu said, and adjourned the proceedings.
Protests disrupt Rajya Sabha, House adjourned twice
Then, when the House convened, Vice Speaker Harivansh called Congressman Shaktisinh Gohil to talk about the Bill to Amend the Weapons of Mass Destruction and Delivery Systems Bill 2022 (Prohibition of illegal activities).
Before a reluctant Gohil could speak, a member of various opposition parties, including Congress, invaded the well and began shouting slogans, holding up signs. The president urged them to return to their seats. He also urged Randeep Singh Surjewala of Congress not to take photos of the protests, saying it was against the rules.
While Union Minister Piyush Goyal said other MPs were also recording the proceedings, the protests continued. Gohil demanded that the House be brought to order before speaking. Harivansh first urged Prashanta, a member of Biju Janata Dal, to speak on the bill, but soon after, he adjourned the House for the day.