New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday said that the passage of all pending bills will give momentum to country's progress as he addressed the Rajya Sabha to reply on the motion of thanks to President Pranab Mukherjee's address.
The Prime Minister also took a dig at the Congress by comparing the party to ‘death’. "There is a funny thing about death, no one blames death. They blame the reason why people die,” he said and added that Congress has a similar boon. “Whenever there is an attack on Congress, it's always said attack on Opposition, and never said attack on the Congress,” he said.
Modi also made a fresh pitch for passage of GST and other legislations in the Rajya Sabha considering the "conducive atmosphere" that has been prevailing in Parliament this session with cooperation from the opposition.
Like in the Lok Sabha last week, he was both conciliatory and mocking towards the opposition, particularly Congress, during his hour long reply to the debate in the Upper House.
Referring to some 300 amendments that have been tabled to the motion of thanks, Modi appealed to the parties to withdraw them and passed the motion unanimously to ensure dignity of the President's office and in keeping with the high traditions of the House.
However, despite his appeal, the government suffered an embarrassment when the House adopted the Motion of Thanks to President's Address with an amendment moved by Leader of the Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad in a division in which 94 voted for the amendment and 61 against.
The amendment regretted that the address did not commit support to rights of all citizens to contest Panchayat elections in the backdrop of law in Rajasthan and Haryana where matriculation has been fixed as the criteria for contesting the polls.
During his speech, Modi invoked late Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru's words to say that Rajya Sabha is a chamber of ideas and there was need for coordination between it and the Lok Sabha because both of them are part of a structure. "I hope we give importance to Pandit Nehru's thinking and I hope all pending bills are passed in this session," he said amid thumping of desks by the treasury benches.
The government has been having difficulties in getting through with its legislations, especially the crucial Goods and Services Tax bill, because of the lack of majority in the Upper House.
Adopting a conciliatory approach, the Prime Minister referred to the President's address in which the President appealed to the members to ensure smooth functioning of the Parliament and not allow disruption.
"We have been running Parliament this session smoothly for this I would thank the opposition for carrying forward President's message. The impact of the President's message is a matter of pride for us," he said.
Pointing to the smooth functioning of the Houses this session, Modi said the Lok Sabha sat till Tuesday midnight and the Rajya Sabha had a late sitting a couple of days ago.
"Even after the late sittings, the members were enthusiastic and excited. Because, after a long time, they got an opportunity to express themselves in Parliament and to put through their views across.
"The Question Hour is a good opportunity for members to keep the government, ministers and the executive on a tight leash and ensure accountability which is greatest strength of democracy," he said.
Modi said in the past session, out of 169 starred questions, only seven were taken up while 42 hours were wasted because of disruptions. In the session before that, only six questions were taken up and 72 hours were lost in disruptions.
"Now, ministers and officials are forced to make preparations for replying in Parliament. This is the strength of democracy. No words are enough to thank...," he said.
The Prime Minister told the Congress that it was in power for long and that the NDA has got the opportunity now.
"Development in fits and starts is not enough. Such an approach will leave us far behind. We need to move from incremental to quantum jump," he said.
The Prime Minister mocked the Congress for claiming ownership to the programmes of his dispensation.
Earlier in the day, the Rajya Sabha witnessed pandemonium over Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's World Culture Festival. The opposition demanded answers on why the army was roped in for a private function.
The issue was raised by JD-U leader Sharad Yadav and other members during Zero Hour. Opposition MPs stormed into the Well of the House and raised slogans.
CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury hit out at the Centre asking why was the Army roped in for a private event.
In response, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said that Sri Sri Ravi Shankar is committed towards protecting environment and added that it would be wrong to doubt his commitment towards nature.
Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, said that he was concerned about the event, as the Delhi Police had also raised security concerns.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, however, lashed back at the Opposition saying that if a matter is pending with Tribunal, ordinarily, the chair doesn't allow the issue to be raised in the House.
Speaking to the media after the House was adjourned, Yechury reiterated that the Army was being misused and added the entire matter is a violation on the Green Tribunal.
"How can the Indian Army be summoned to make arrangements for a private function? How are they violating the existing laws in this issue? How are they misusing the Army? The government owes an explanation for this," he said.
The Delhi Police has raised serious security concerns over the fete being organised by the Art of Living foundation on the Yamuna floodplains.
A DCP rank officer, who inspected the venue on March 1 along with his team, in a report submitted to the Ministry of Urban Development, Art of Living, Lieutenant Governor Najeeb Jung and Delhi Police Commissioner Alok Kumar Verma raised serious question about the preparation and safety arrangements.
The report said that only one pontoon bridge is being prepared as opposed to seven, as proposed earlier, and the work on second bridge was still on. A pontoon bridge can at best be used by 15, 000 people in an hour, but the number of people expected to turn up for the event is around 2.5 to three lakh people, the report added.
Meanwhile, the National Green Tribunal (NGT) continued to hear the plea today seeking to stop construction of temporary structure on the Yamuna floodplains for the event.
On Tuesday’s hearing, the Green Panel also questioned the building up of pontoon bridge by the Army on river Yamuna for the festival.
Earlier, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar had defended the event, saying not a single tree has been cut and the ecological stability has been maintained during the preparations.
The World Culture Festival is scheduled to be held from March 11 to 13.
According to reports the event will feature yoga and meditation sessions, peace prayers and traditional cultural performances from around the world....