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Tuesday , February 23 , 2010
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UPA balks at price vote

New Delhi, Feb. 22: The Lok Sabha appeared set for a day of disruptions ahead of the rail and general budgets after the government today refused the Opposition’s demand for a discussion on price rise under a rule that calls for voting.

The stand-off loomed as the BJP-led Opposition seemed determined to paralyse House proceedings tomorrow on an issue that has sparked protests across the country.

The government claimed it had no apprehensions about numbers, as the majority in the House was not in doubt, but had rejected the demand on a matter of “principle”.

“We have the numbers and that’s not the issue at all. We have refused to accept the adjournment motion as it is a matter of principle. The House can only be run on the basis of rules and norms,” parliamentary affairs minister Pawan Bansal said after efforts to persuade the Opposition failed.

Even if the Congress-led UPA had accepted the Opposition’s demand, it would have survived the motion. The ruling coalition, which has 260 MPs in a House of 544, could have counted on at least 16 Independents to cross the halfway mark of 272 even without the support of parties like the RJD that may not have liked to be seen with it.

Congress sources said the fate of the government was not a worry but a vote would have led to unnecessary tensions of floor management before the rail budget on February 24 and the finance bill two days later.

In the budget session, the Opposition can force a vote at several stages. It can, for instance, move an amendment during the motion of thanks to the President’s address and force a division.

It can also move cut motions on budgetary proposals. The government falls if it loses the vote. Even otherwise, losing a vote is a censure and the government comes under moral pressure to review its continuance.

Although the Opposition, too, realises there is no scope for defeating the government on the floor of the House, it knows forcing a vote on an issue that affects ordinary voters could help it gain some political mileage. The government is keen to avoid this situation.

Technically, the government has valid reasons for rejecting the adjournment motion. The House suspends all business to discuss an issue only if it is of urgent public importance. According to parliamentary tradition, urgency is decided in the context of emergency, not importance.

“The Opposition itself says that the government has failed to contain prices for the last six years and hence there is no emergency attached to this issue,” parliamentary affairs minister Bansal said.

Government sources said an adjournment motion was accepted when no other parliamentary device was available to discuss an urgent issue.

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