Opposition seeks parliament vote on high prices


Reuters | Mon Jul 26, 2010 | 2:42pm IST

India Parliament The top opposition parties said on Monday they will seek a special discussion and vote in parliament over high prices this week, attacking the government on an issue that has emerged as a major policy challenge. Voting can take place only if it is allowed by the parliament speaker. But there is little threat to government stability, and the move will only distract from pushing key reformist bills in the current session of parliament that began on Monday. Inflation, a political hot potato, has been hovering over 10 percent, putting the spotlight on Tuesday’s central bank policy meeting in which a 25 basis points raise is expected. Many see the main lending rate rising to 6-6.25 percent by end-December from 5.50 percent.

Besides high prices, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has a slew of issues to attack the government on, including last week’s failed talks with Pakistan and a slew of domestic political controversies. But price rise remains a potent political weapon in a country where over 40 percent of its 1.2 billion citizens live in abject poverty. Food prices have risen at double-digit annual rates for nearly a year and fuel prices were hiked three times in 2010. "We have given an adjournment notice (to the speaker) on the issue of price rise," Gopinath Munde, BJP’s deputy leader in parliament’s elected lower house, told Reuters, referring to the special discussion. He said a vote will also be demanded.   

In April, the Congress party-led government sailed through a trial of strength in parliament over a rise in fuel and fertiliser prices. The government was then backed by 289 lawmakers in the 545-strong lower house. Munde said opposition parties were holding a meeting on Monday to decide on floor coordination. The country’s leftist parties are also backing the demand for a vote on prices. "All opposition will come together on prices where even parties with the government have reservations," Marxist leader Basudeb Acharia said. The opposition protests over price rises could delay key legislation. The government has said it will try to get parliament to ratify bills to simplify taxation, including a proposal to introduce a goods and services tax (GST), and another to cap private firms’ liability in case of a nuclear accident. The government is also readying a bill to guarantee subsidised food for the poor by expanding a scheme to provide cheap grains.

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