Opposition agrees to end parliament blockage | Reuters 02/08/2010 | 12:26 pm IST
The opposition agreed on Monday to stop blocking parliament proceedings, party officials said, paving the way for the Congress party-led government to take up key economic reforms. Since it reconvened a week ago following a summer recess, parliament has on almost all days shut within minutes of opening as opposition protests over high prices scuppered debates. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee secured the agreement after meeting opposition members on Monday. He agreed to a symbolic resolution expressing concern about inflationary pressures and a discussion in parliament on Tuesday on price rises. The move is seen as a compromise between the government and the opposition.
Since the beginning of the year the government has lurched from one crisis to another, disappointing hopes in some quarters that its convincing 2009 electoral victory would accelerate much-needed reforms in Asia’s third-largest economy. “There was consensus. It was agreed that a resolution asking the government to take further measures to contain the adverse impact of inflation on the common man will be passed at the end of the discussion,” Communist leader Basudeb Acharia said. If the opposition sticks to its pledge not to disrupt parliament, the government is expected soon to introduce changes to the income tax system and hopes to start discussions on India’s most ambitious indirect tax reform — a nationwide goods and services tax, which would streamline the country’s complex revenue system.
The main Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and the communist parties, ideological foes otherwise, accuse Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s government of not doing enough to keep rising prices — hurting hundreds of millions of poor Indians — in check and have slammed a June decision to raise fuel prices. Price rises remain a potent political weapon in a country where over 40 percent of its 1.2 billion citizens live in abject poverty. Food prices rose at double-digit annual rates for nearly a year. Singh won a confidence vote in April but it exposed his government’s vulnerability in parliament and cast doubt on its ability to push through reforms. India has over the past year had to shelve big-ticket reforms such as opening up the retail, pension and insurance sectors to greater foreign investments, hobbled by a socialist Congress old-guard and by reform-suspicious partners.