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INDIA: A total impasse in India’s parliament is not only
undermining the world’s biggest democracy but also deepening its economic woes
as long-awaited reforms fall by the wayside. A now familiar chorus of
recriminations echoed around the grandiose circular chamber on Friday as the
second of the three annual sessions ended in paralysis.
Faced with MPs from the main opposition BJP party shouting
and waving papers, the parliamentary speaker called an end to proceedings
shortly after midday.
The BJP has been demanding the resignation of beleaguered
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over a scandal involving the awarding of coal
mining concessions in his first term as premier, which has come to be dubbed
Auditors say the concessions were handed out too cheaply and
in a process that lacked transparency -- heaping more embarrassment on the main
ruling Congress party and Singh in particular who was in charge of the coal
ministry at the time.
Once widely admired as the architect of reforms in the 1990s
that transformed the Indian economy, Singh now finds his latest legislative
plans thwarted at every turn. In the latest “monsoon” session which began on
August 8, lawmakers spent just 25 out of a possible 120 hours considering
legislation, according to PRS Legislative Research, a New Delhi-based
independent study group.
Only four bills were cleared by both houses of parliament,
despite as many as 30 being listed for consideration on issues such as
pensions, land acquisition, tax reform and corruption.
“The coal scandal has changed the entire political and
economic complexion of the country,” Arun Kumar, chairman of the Centre for
Economic Studies and Planning in New Delhi, told AFP.
“The victim of this deadlock is the economy which has been stopped
from getting back to growth,” Kumar said adding that lawmakers had unanimously
ignored their “real business” which, is to “pass bills and introduce reforms”.
“They are holding back India’s economic growth story.”
Singh, not normally known for his temper, made a rare outburst to reporters as
he expressed his frustration on Friday afternoon outside parliament.
“We take pride in the fact that since independence we are a
practising, functioning democracy.
What we have seen in this session is a total negation of
that,” said the 79-year-old Congress party veteran.
While few commentators believe the BJP really wants to force
elections before the scheduled date in spring 2014, the Coalgate revelations
have put further wind in their sails at a time when the economy is experiencing
a sharp slowdown.
India’s economy grew by 5.5 percent in the second quarter of
the year against a figure of eight percent over the same period in 2011.