By Fakir Balaji
Bengaluru, Sep 20 (IANS) The Karnataka legislature is set for a stormy Monsoon Session starting Monday as the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress brace for a showdown on a number of issues amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The 8-day session of the Assembly and Legislative Council will be held in the Vidhana Soudha (Secretariat) from September 21-30 in compliance with Covid guidelines,” a legislature official told IANS here.
Though the Monsoon Session was to be held in July for passing a few amendment Bills and transacting other government business, the surge in COVID-19 cases in the state forced the BJP government to postpone it to September.
“As per the rules, the legislative session has to be held within 6 months of the last date of its previous session. As the Budget session was held till March 23, the next session had to be convened by September 23,” pointed out the official.
To ensure physical distancing, the ruling and opposition legislators will be seated with a gap between their seats in the lower and upper houses.
Wearing a mask or face shield, sanitising hands, and maintaining physical distance has been made mandatory for all lawmakers, including Ministers and officials attending the session.
As some of the cushioned seats in the front rows are common, they will be separated by placing a plastic shield to enable the members sit at a safe distance.
“Ministers will sit in alternate seats in the front circular rows of the treasury benches to maintain at least 3-feet distance between them,” said the official.
As seating has to be arranged for all the Assembly and Council members in both the houses in view of social distancing, one third members will be accommodated in the visitors’ gallery on the first floor of the premises.
“Members of the public will not be allowed to witness the session, as the media and officials also have to be seated in the visitors’ gallery,” added the official.
In the 225-member Assembly, the ruling BJP has 116 seats, Congress 68, Janata Dal-Secular (JD-S) 33, Independents 2, and BSP, Speaker and nominated members one each. Three seats are vacant.
As the state amended the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act and the Land Reforms Act through ordinances in May, Law and Parliamentary Affairs Minister JC Maduswamy will move the Bills pertaining to the ordinances to amend the respective Acts.
Since the Congress and regional outfit JD-S are opposed to the Bills which they dubbed to be against farmers and traders, the state government is bracing up for a showdown with the opposition, which sought their withdrawal in the interest of farmers and other stakeholders.
“As the session is for a short duration (8 days), the Bills will be moved on Monday after the customary obituary references to those who died since March, including former President Pranab Mukherjee (August 31), former JD-S MLA Appaji Gowda from Bhadravathi (September 3) and JD-S legislator B Sathyanarayana (August 5) due to Covid,” said the official.
With 4 Cabinet Ministers — CN Ashwath Narayan, Basavaraj Bommai, Byrathi Basavaraj, K Gopalaiah — and MoS Prabhu Chauhan testing coronavirus positive last week and quarantined for another 10 days, they will be absent along with a couple of ruling and opposition legislators who are also infected.
Congress Legislature Party leader Siddaramaiah urged Assembly Speaker Visveshwar Kageri Hegde to extend the session by 15 days, as a number of issues, including corona crisis, floods, Bengaluru riots, and the drugs scandal in the Kannada film industry have to be discussed to “expose the failure of the BJP government in tackling them”.
“We have prepared questions for raising in the Assembly and the Council on the irregularities in purchase of medical equipment for treating corona patients, amending the APMC Act, Land Reforms Act and Labour laws through ordinances, failure to prevent riots in Bengaluru suburb, and delays in providing relief to the flood-hit people in the state’s northwest districts,” said state Congress President DK Shivakumar.
The Congress and the JD-S had protested against the state government’s decision to auction about 21,000 acres of wasteland (B-Kharab) around Bengaluru at four times the guidance value for ostensibly benefiting the real estate mafia.
“We are also against the state government’s move to borrow Rs 18,289 crore from the Reserve Bank of India to meet the revenue shortfall of GST compensation the central government owes to Karnataka, as it will overburden the state with higher interest payment and mounting debt,” said JD-S leader and former chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy.
In the 75-member Council, the BJP has 27 seats, Congress 28, JD-S 14 and Independent 1, apart from one of Chairman and four vacant ones.
(With inputs by NB Hombal)