Let parliament function, PM Singh implores opposition

NEW DELHI Thu Feb 21, 2013 8:49am IST

1 of 2. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gestures to supporters of the Congress Party during a rally at Vasda village, about 345 km south of Ahmedabad December 9, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Amit Dave/Files

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NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pleaded with opposition parties on Wednesday to allow parliament to function during a session that begins this week, when the government plans to present the annual budget and legislation on economic reform.

The last two sessions of parliament have been disrupted by opposition members protesting against corruption, reforms and affirmative action policies, although the winter session in December finally managed to conduct business for a few days.

The month-long monsoon session in August and September passed only four bills out of 30 due to be debated.

"It is our sincere hope that we will have a productive, constructive debate leading to agreed solutions to the many national problems that our country faces," Singh told reporters after addressing parliamentary leaders from all parties.

"Parliament is a forum for discussion, for dialogue and all parties have an obligation to ensure that parliament runs smoothly."

Singh is grappling with the worst economic slowdown in a decade and faces a general election next year.

The parliament session begins on Thursday with an address by the president. Debates begin on Friday.

The government plans to present bills for insurance and pension reform that will open those industries to more foreign investment and to change land acquisition laws to make it easier for companies to buy land for industrial and infrastructure projects.

It will present the annual budget for the fiscal year ending in March 2014 next week. Also planned are a food security bill to provide subsidised grain for the poor, the setting up of a lokpal and the approval of an ordinance providing for harsher punishment for perpetrators of sex crimes.

The ruling coalition, headed by the Congress party, is technically in a minority but is supported by regional allies.

The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has led protests in the legislature during previous sessions, has criticised a kickbacks scandal in the $750 million purchase of VIP helicopters from Anglo-Italian company AgustaWestland that erupted last week.

(Reporting by Annie Banerji and Satarupa Bhattacharjya; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Robert Birsel)

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