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Boycott off, head-to-head tussle

New Delhi, Aug. 4: The government and the BJP are locked in a fresh confrontation over who will head some parliamentary panels, a day after the Opposition decided to end its boycott of the committees.

The BJP wants to head the panels on home, finance and human resource development, but the Congress-led government is not willing to concede the demand.

In all, there are 24 parliamentary committees to scrutinise budgetary demands for grants. Of these, 16 are to be headed by Lok Sabha members and the rest by Rajya Sabha MPs.

The committees were to be formed immediately after Parliament went into a three-week recess on July 23 so that the members got enough time to study the demands for grants before the House reassembles on August 16.

The government and the presiding officers of both Houses today held meetings with BJP leaders but could not finalise the names for the committees as the party insisted on heading the panels of the key ministries. The Congress, the main Opposition party in the 13th Lok Sabha, headed these committees when the NDA was in power. The convention, BJP leaders say, is that the Opposition heads these panels to keep vigil on the government.

Miffed with the government’s “unreasonable” stand, BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj, V.K. Malhotra and S.S. Ahluwalia, who held talks with the presiding officers, parliamentary affairs minister Ghulam Nabi Azad and his deputy Suresh Pachauri, will take up the matter with leader of Opposition L.K. Advani tonight.

At a meeting with Rajya Sabha chairman Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, both sides failed to reach an agreement though Azad said he was confident “the issue would be resolved soon”. Asked what the hitch was, he declined comment.

An agitated Ahluwalia said: “We do not want anything extra. We want only those committees which they headed in the 13th Lok Sabha. We were then in the government and the committee on home ministry was headed by Pranab Mukherjee, while Arjun Singh was head of the HRD panel in the Rajya Sabha. In the Lok Sabha, Shivraj Patil headed the finance ministry committee.

“If Advani (as home minister) had no problem in giving his ministry’s committee to Pranab Mukherjee, and Jaswant Singh had no problem in giving the finance ministry panel to Shivraj Patil, why can’t Patil now give us the home ministry committee and Arjun Singh the HRD panel'”

He said these panels serve as watchdogs and the Congress stand was not in the interest of democracy. “Because of the request of the Speaker and the Prime Minister, we decided to end the boycott, but they are now opening a new front and forcing us to say negative things.”

The Opposition had earlier boycotted the panels in protest against Mukherjee’s statement condemning it for stalling proceedings and making “derogatory” remarks against the Speaker.

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