India: Budget Watch

After his fireside chat about corruption fell on deaf ears last week, beleaguered Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's United Progressive Alliance government is caving to the opposition's demands for a joint parliamentary commission probe into a series of so-called "scams" -- hoping to avoid another gridlocked parliament during the crucial budget session that opened today.

Singh said the Budget session of Parliament is "very crucial" and expressed the hope that the proceedings will be peaceful and productive today, reports the Indian Express, apparently realizing that his second term is not going to get a honeymoon period and he faces four more years of do-nothing government if he can't manage some nifty footwork. The past session hardly opened for business, as the opposition was always either walking out or spending the whole time shouting about the UPA's refusal to submit to an investigation of corruption by a JPC.

"This Budget session of Parliament is very crucial. The Budget has to be debated and passed by the two Houses of Parliament," the paper quoted Singh as saying. "We also hope to bring some important pieces of legislation for consideration of Parliament."

Indeed. According to Business Standard, Singh plans to introduce two contentious bills -- the Goods and Services Tax Bill and the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill -- in the budget session of parliament, which kicked off Monday. There are some 32 items on the anvil in total.

The GST is meant to end India's arcane and unwieldy system of interstate taxes, giving a major boost to economic growth, but the BJP is opposing it supposedly because it would reduce the rights of India's individual states. (More likely, it would be pushing the same bill if it were in power.)

Meanwhile, the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill is intended to make India's laws on eminent domain more practical and fair amid continuing controversy about the forceful acquisition of large swathes of farmland for industrial projects and real estate developments.

Other items of business include: Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Bill, Recovery of Debts due to Banks and Financial Institutions (Amendment) Bill, National Highways Authority of India (Amendment) Bill, Cinematograph Bill, Companies (Amendment) Bill, Banking Laws (Amendment) Bill, Chartered Accountants (Amendment) Bill and Equal Opportunity Bill, Bank of India [ Get Quote ] (Subsidiary Banks) Amendment Bill and Prevention of Torture Bill.