Heard in Parliament during Budget speech: ‘Adani, Adani’
India’s first Covid-era budget was delivered from a tablet.
The MPs were scattered across the two Houses and the visitors’ galleries to maintain social distancing in a Parliament sprayed with disinfectant before the start of the day’s sitting.
Despite fewer MPs in proximity to the Chair, the Opposition’s protests could be heard, particularly when finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman read out proposals to privatise public sector undertakings.
When Sitharaman said “major ports will be moving from managing their operational services on their own to a model where a private partner will manage it for them”, Opposition members raised jeers of “Adani, Adani!”
Momentarily stalled, Sitharaman stressed: “A scheme to promote flagging of merchant ships in India will be launched by providing subsidy support to Indian shipping companies in global tenders floated by ministries and CPSEs (central public sector undertakings).”
Adani Ports and Special Economic Zone Ltd operates 10 ports in the country, and its owner Gautam Adani is considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The protests increased as Sitharaman announced that several public sector undertakings would be privatised. She was booed when she said: “Our government is committed to the welfare of farmers.”
The Opposition benches chanted “Kale kanoon wapas lo (Withdraw the black laws)”, demanding repeal of the new farm laws.
Congress members Gurjeet Singh Aujla, Jasbir Singh Gill and Ravneet Singh Bittu — who have been protesting on Jantar Mantar Road here against the three laws — wore black robes inscribed with slogans in support of the protesting farmers.
Police blocked several roads and fortified other routes from the protest sites with concrete barricades and spikes on Monday to pre-empt any march by farmers to Parliament — although the farmers had called off the programme. The restrictions led to traffic snarls across the city.
Congress members chanted slogans before Mahatma Gandhi’s statue outside Parliament House before the session began.
Shiromani Akali Dal members and Rajasthan MP Hanuman Beniwal of the Rashtriya Loktantrik Party walked out during the budget speech in protest against the farm laws and held up placards outside Parliament.
Sitharaman received both cheers and jeers when she announced several highway projects in poll-bound Assam, Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.
Dressed in a red and white Pochamapally saree, Sitharaman read out her “paperless budget” from an electronic tablet. She posed for the customary photos, along with finance ministry officials, with the tablet in a red case that bore the Lion Capital of Ashoka in gold.
In 2019, Sitharaman had replaced the traditional Gladstone Box leather briefcase that held the budget papers with the Bahi Khata, the traditional cloth bag used to carry ledgers of trade.
There was speculation on social media that the tablet was an iPad manufactured in Tamil Nadu. However, till late Monday night, there had been no word from the finance ministry on the brand or origin of the tablet.
Sitharaman and all her officials removed their face masks for the photo, taken before the budget speech. Speaker Om Birla, who wore a Himachali cap, was without a mask through the day’s session.
No visitors are being allowed inside Parliament during the budget session, with the viewers’ galleries being occupied by MPs. There’s restricted seating for the media, with publications taking turns in attending the session.