Thursday, 04 Jan, 2.50 am

Government, Opposition spar over triple talaq bill in Rajya Sabha

The Opposition on its part claimed it had managed to corner and stall the government's move to push the bill through in the Upper House.

New Delhi: The government on Wednesday failed to push through the triple talaq bill in the Rajya Sabha as a combative Opposition insisted that it be sent to a select committee for further scrutiny. Ironically, both treasury and Opposition benches claimed victory in the Upper House's war of wits.

While the Opposition, led by the Congress and Trinamool Congress, claimed it had foxed the ruling side with its demand for a division in the vote for the bill going to a select committee, the government said that it had managed to "expose" the "double standards" of the Congress and other parties.

"Why did the Congress, which had supported the Bill in the Lok Sabha, did not support the Bill in the Upper House also? This shows the double standards of the party," finance minister and Leader of the House in Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitely said.

The Opposition on its part claimed it had managed to corner and stall the government's move to push the bill through in the Upper House.

The BJP, which had got the bill passed in the Lok Sabha, ignoring the Opposition's demand to refer it to a parliamentary standing committee for closer scrutiny, has 57 members in the Rajya Sabha.

What is interesting is that the Trinamool Congress, which had maintained a studied silence on the bill in the Lok Sabha, jumped with a vengeance in Rajya Sabha to the demand that the bill be sent to a select committee. Its chief whip in Rajya Sabha, Sukhendu Shekhar Roy, moved a resolution along with the Congress for the bill to be referred to a select committee.

The other resolution was moved by senior Congress leader Anand Sharma.

The government, however, claimed that both the resolutions were invalid as they quoted wrong rules and the list of members of the select committee given by both the parties had no names from the government side.

Government sources said that they will take up the bill again on Thursday and insist that it be passed without being referred to a select committee. The Opposition seemed equally adamant on insisting that it be referred to a select committee.

On Wednesday, the BJP which had been working on a strategy to "expose" the Opposition by calling for a division in case voting was taken up on the issue of sending the bill to a select committee, seemed to be taken aback when the Opposition itself sought a division. The Opposition's confidence stemmed from the fact that they had on their side NDA constituent Telugu Desam Party (TDP) with six members and the Biju Janata Dal with eight members.

A senior leader of the Trinamool Congress said that the division would have shown that the BJP was totally outnumbered in the Upper House.

Besides the Congress, SP and TMC, the names proposed by Mr Sharma for the panel included leaders of AIADMK, BSP, DMK, NCP, CPI, CPI(M), TDP, RJD, BJD, JMM, IUML and nominated member K.T.S. Tulsi.

The government was, however, quick to hit back saying that the Congress double standards have been exposed.

Mr Jaitely, trying to counter the Opposition point by point, later told reporters that the Congress was "indirectly trying to stall" the triple talaq bill.

One of the chief objections raised by the finance minister in the House earlier was that no notice was given 24 hours in advance for the bill to be sent to a select committee.

"Now, we are taken by surprise that we all assemble here after 3 pm, a motion is suddenly submitted to us. For the first time breaking all parliamentary convention and procedures, an invalid motion is moved," Mr Jaitley said.

Pushing for the bill to be passed quickly, he said, "The practice (of triple talaq) was declared unconstitutional on August 22. Two of the judges... held the practice to be unfair. They used their extraordinary powers to suspend this practice for six months. Those six months expires on February 22."

Countering him, the Congress' Kapil Sibal said the minister referred to a minority judgment of the Supreme Court on the issue while there was no mention of urgency in the majority judgment of the apex court.

"What is the problem if they pass the bill after two months? What is the point in trying to pass a half-baked legislation?," a senior Congress leader said.

The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017, was introduced by Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad amid pandemonium in Rajya Sabha, which had been on the boil over Maharashtra caste violence since the morning.

As the House was repeatedly adjourned over the dalit stir issue, it was a sudden decision by the Opposition to let the bill be taken up at 3 PM.