Chaos in Indian parliament; PM bemoans state of democracy
(Reuters) - India's parliament passed just four bills in a month-long session that ended on Friday, prompting Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to question the state of democracy in the Asian power struggling with an economic crisis.
Parliament in the country often dubbed the world's largest democracy had been due to debate 30 bills in the sitting known as the monsoon session.
Sensing a chance to sully the prime minister's image as an honest politician, opposition members obstructed proceedings for two weeks by shouting, punching the air and demanding he resign over a report criticizing the way coalfields were allocated.
"We have just ended a wasted session of Parliament," Singh told reporters outside parliament as both houses were adjourned again after just a few minutes of work.
"This is a negation of democracy. If this thought process is allowed to gain any momentum, that will be a grave violation of the norms of parliamentary politics as we have understood."
In between the shouting, unruly behavior and general uproar, members did pass a bill against sexual discrimination, and three others. But it failed to debate the economic crisis or policies that Singh says are vital to shield India from the global slowdown and revive growth.
"Parliament should have discussed these issues - what is our economic strategy to deal with these global tensions, these global developments - but parliament was not allowed to do any of these things," Singh said.
The recess until the last few weeks of the year gives the prime minister some breathing space and the government may decree a rise in fuel prices, a move economists say is needed to keep India's fiscal deficit at a manageable level.
The lower house was adjourned for more than three-quarters of the session that started on August 8. The upper house worked less than a third of the time allotted to it and the session was further tarnished by a shoving match between two MPs over an affirmative action bill favoring lower castes.
In recent years, the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has frequently resorted to obstruction in parliament to denounce government policies and scandals.
"This session is likely to be remembered for the work that was not done," said the chairman of the upper house, Hamid Ansari, while adjourning the chamber until the winter session.
The Congress party-led government has been on the back foot since a report by the state auditor tabled in parliament mid-session queried coal mining concessions awarded to power and steel companies without competitive bidding, potentially denying the treasury billions of dollars in revenue.
Singh, 79, won a second term in office in a 2009 election. He has denied his government did anything wrong in what has been dubbed "coalgate" by India's media.
The prime minister had already been weakened by previous corruption scandals in his government. The BJP may try to keep up the momentum against the government with protests leading up to state elections later this year.
"In this political game, the economy has been the worst victim," said D.H. Pai Panandiker, head of Delhi think-tank the RPG Foundation. ($1 = 55.7350 Indian rupees)
(Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Ron Popeski)
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