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The demand from Andhra Pradesh based political parties – the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) and YSR Congress Party (YSRCP) – for a special package for their state triggered a series of events that led to much of the Opposition boycotting the afternoon proceedings of the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday afternoon.
Opposition parties accused Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu of “muzzling” their voice and “murdering democracy” by not allowing its members to raise issues of urgent public interest.
Opposition members said the Chairman’s conduct in adjourning the House until 2 pm, including doing away with the Question Hour that starts from 12 pm, was undemocratic. They said muzzling of Opposition’s voice had become frequent ever since Naidu has taken over as the Rajya Sabha chairman.
However, tempers had cooled down by the evening with Finance Minister Arun Jaitley assuring Andhra Pradesh parties of central assistance. There was consensus on both sides that the source of Tuesday’s situation was the protests by the Andhra Pradesh parties, and the House might return to its normal proceedings with the FM having assured TDP and YSRCP.
Rajya Sabha Chairman Naidu, who also hails from Andhra Pradesh, said in a statement he was deeply concerned with the negative public perception of the Rajya Sabha on account of forced and frequent adjournments.
Naidu said his intention in adjourning the House until 2 pm on Tuesday was to “promote a sense of collective responsibility in minimizing or doing away with such forced frequent disruptions.”
“When members and parties realise that they would ultimately be the losers of such disruptions and adjournments, they would talk to each other and enable better functioning of the house,” Naidu said.
The Lok Sabha was also adjourned at least twice, but briefly when TDP and YSRCP members blocked the view of the Lok Sabha cameras to Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge, who was taking part in the debate on the ‘motion of thanks to the President’s address’.
The controversy started when most of the Opposition complained that the Rajya Sabha Chairman adjourned the House within minutes of it convening at 11 am for its Zero Hour, even before the TDP and YSRCP members had entered the well of the House. The Opposition also sent a protest letter to Naidu. It was signed by the Congress, Trinamool Congress, the Left parties, Aam Aadmi Party and some other opposition parties.
Congress leaders Ghulam Nabi Azad and Anand Sharma, Trinamool Congress’ Derek O’Brien, Communist Party of India’s D Raja, Aam Aadmi Party’s Sanjay Singh and others held a press conference to criticize the Rajya Sabha chairman’s actions.
The TDP, a BJP ally, is upset at the non-implementation of the Andhra Pradesh Reorganisation Act. Jaitley said in both the Houses that he has asked the expenditure secretary to work for a mechanism to provide funds to Andhra Pradesh as an extra-budgetary mechanism. The FM said the state government has asked for externally aided projects. He said such projects are approved by external agencies like JICA or World Bank and "takes time".
"So the Chief Minister has written to me saying have it funded from NABARD. But once it is funded from NABARD, it creates a problem with regard to addition to the fiscal deficit because in that case the borrowing space of the state itself would be contracted," Jaitley explained.
Government sources bemoaned how the Andhra Pradesh government has spent central assistance in giving out sops and exhausted the money.