Ahead of budget session, government reaches out to opposition

New Delhi: Facing the crucial budget session where half a dozen ordinances have to be replaced by relevant laws, the NDA government Sunday reached out to the opposition over various issues, including the contentious land acquisition ordinance, even as Prime Minister Narendra Modi noted said it was the "collective responsibility" of all parties to run parliament.

A day ahead of the session, Modi, at an all-party meeting, assured leaders that issues raised would be discussed according to their importance.

"The prime minister stressed on the importance of the budget session of parliament saying that the people of the country look at the session with lot of hope and expectations," Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu told media persons after the meeting.

Modi stressed that it was the collective responsibility of all parties and leaders to enable the people fulfill their hopes and aspirations through proper functioning of both houses of parliament, said Naidu.

The government, meanwhile, sought to reach out to the opposition over the agenda for the budget session which includes 44 items of financial, legislative and non-legislative business.

Naidu met Congress President Sonia Gandhi in the morning and later met leaders of opposition parties over lunch to seek their cooperation, but they all conveyed their concern on the land ordinance. Though the government has not spoken of making changes in it so far, there now appears to be a rethink on the issue.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh, who Saturday met some farmers' representatives on the issue, was told by them that the government had brought the measure without proper consultations and asked the government to ensure that their views are taken into account before bringing the bill replacing it, said sources.

Naidu told Sonia Gandhi that the land ordinance was brought after "enough" consultations with various states and stakeholders but she said that her party had its concerns on it, while assuring the government of cooperation.

However, the party said there was no "softening" of its stand on the ordinances passed by the Modi government.

"There is no questioning of softening the stance when it comes to the land acquisition bill, and also on the coal ordinance," Congress leader Anand Sharma told news channel CNN-IBN.

"This government has shown utter disrespect to Indian parliament by embarking on the ordinance route. Any new law brought in by the government... has to go through parliamentary scrutiny. By taking the ordinance route, they (the government) are bypassing parliament's scrutiny," he added.

Naidu, however, termed the all-party meeting "very successful".

"The general view expressed was that parliament should function smoothly. Focus should be on financial matters since this is the budget session," he said, adding that there was broad consensus on "four-five ordinances" of the six that need to be replaced by bills in the first half of the session ending March 20.

But the opposition parties raised objections to the one on land acquisition and the government conveyed its willingness to address any issue, he said.

Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad said the party will support the government on bills and ordinances which benefit the common man but not those which are "anti-people".

The opposition parties are expected to raise a number of issues including attacks on churches, ceasefire violations by Pakistan and concerns of Tamil fishermen.

In the all-party meeting, several leaders welcomed Modi's recent statement on religious freedom and right to promote one's religion and his call for respecting all religions.

Congress leader in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjuna Kharge said: "Parliamentary democracy is all about deciding on issues through discusssion. Different parties will convey their views on ordinances and other issues whenever taken up."

Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar said: "The budget session is important and we need to ensure smooth functioning of parliament."

In the evening, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan held a meeting of leaders of parties in the house to ensure its smooth functioning.

Speaking to media persons after the meeting, Mahajan said she was in favour of discussing the land acquisition bill in the house so that both opposition and government can have their say.

The session will begin with President Pranab Mukherjee's address to members of both houses of parliament.

The rail budget will be presented Feb 26, Economic Survey Feb 27 and the general budget Feb 28.

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