Monsoon Session of Parliament: From Rafale, COVID management to fuel prices, Oppn preps arsenal to corner Centre

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The Monsoon Session of Parliament, slated to be held from 19 July till 13 August, is likely to witness fireworks with the Opposition readying to corner the Centre over a slew of issues.

If Congress leader Rahul Gandhi's recent tweets are anything to go by, the Rafale deal, COVID-19 vaccines, and fuel prices are likely to be at the very top of the Opposition's agenda to up the ante against the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Here's a brief about each issue that is likely to be taken up by the Opposition, recent developments around it and who said what: >Rafale deal

  • France's Dassault Aviation had initially won a contract in 2012 to supply 126 jets to India and had been negotiating with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

  • Later, HAL was replaced by Anil Ambani's Reliance group and a new contract for 36 jets was finalised.

  • The announcement to buy the 36 jets was made in an India-France joint statement when Modi visited France in April 2015.

  • The new deal, in which Dassault had to supply 36 ready-to-fly aircraft to India in partnership with Anil Ambani's Reliance group, was worth Rs 60,000 crore.

  • The first fighter jet was handed over to the Indian Air Force on 8 October, 2019, in France, in a ceremony attended by defence minister Rajnath Singh.

  • The jets were formally inducted into the fleet on 10 September.

Recent developments: A >French judge has been appointed to lead a >"highly sensitive" judicial probe into suspected "corruption" and "favouritism" in the Rafale fighter jet deal with India, French investigative website Mediapart reported.

Who said what?

  • The Congress has demanded a >Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the Rafale deal, alleging corruption in the purchase of the fighter jets, and said such an investigation is the only way forward to find the truth.

  • The main Opposition party further said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi should order an >investigation and come clean on the deal.

  • The BJP, meanwhile, has termed the Congress's latest round of attacks over the Rafale deal as ">lies" with party spokesperson Sambit Patra accusing Rahul Gandhi of trying to >mislead Indian people and spreading ">canards".

  • "Just an >investigation has been ordered, and a magistrate has been assigned to probe concerns raised by an NGO regarding Rafale (deal). France as a sovereign country is in its right to do so. But does that mean that corruption in the deal has been proven? We don't think so," said Patra.

Why it matters: Rahul has been alleging >corruption in the Rafale fighter jet deal for a long time now and had made this a major poll plank in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, which the Congress >lost badly. This offers him and the >Opposition a chance to relitigate the issue and search for a possible >chink in the armour of the government.

COVID-19 management: With an SBI research report on Monday saying that India is likely to witness the >third wave of COVID-19 from >August and hit its peak in >September, the >Monsoon Session of Parliament (ending nearly in mid-August), is the ideal opportunity for the Opposition to hit the Centre over the COVID-19 pandemic.

This report comes amid several states including >Jharkhand, Tamil Nadu and >Rajasthan complaining of >vaccine shortages. The >Odisha government >halted its >vaccination drive in 16 districts due to >shortages of Covishield doses, as per PTI. Who said what?

  • On Tuesday, the Union health ministry said more than >1.66 crore unutilised COVID-19 vaccine doses are still available with the states, UTs and private hospitals to be administered.

  • On Friday, Union health minister >Harsh Vardhan hit back at >Rahul Gandhi for raising questions over the COVID-19 vaccine availability in the country, saying the Congress is in need of a leadership haul. >Vardhan also said that there is no vaccine for the virus of arrogance and ignorance. "Just yesterday, I put out facts on vaccine availability for the month of July. What is @RahulGandhi Ji's problem ?Does he not read ? Does he not understand ? There is no vaccine for the virus of arrogance and ignorance !! @INCIndia must think of a leadership overhaul !," Vardhan tweeted.

  • Earlier on Friday, Rahul had said in a tweet in Hindi that July has come but vaccines have not.

  • Also on Friday, Union finance minister >Nirmala Sitharaman said the government has been >proactive in responding to the challenges caused by COVID-19 and is also taking up reforms despite the pandemic.

Why it matters: As of today, a mere 4.75 percent of India's population is fully vaccinated against the dreaded virus. While that number is likely to grow by August, only time will tell if it will be a substantial enough jump to ward off the third wave of COVID-19.

Fuel prices

  • On Monday, the price of >petrol neared the Rs 100-a-litre mark in the >National Capital after yet another rate hike.

  • Petrol price was increased by 35 paise per litre while there was no change in >diesel rates, according to a price notification from State-owned fuel retailers.

  • In >Mumbai, petrol is priced at Rs 105.92 a litre and it costs Rs 100.75 in Chennai.

  • Petrol has crossed the Rs >100 per litre mark in >Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka, Jammu and Kashmir, Odisha, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Bihar, Punjab, Ladakh and >Sikkim.

  • Diesel, the most used fuel in the country, is above that level in some places in >Rajasthan, Odisha and> Madhya Pradesh.

Who said what?

  • West Bengal chief minister >Mamata Banerjee on Monday, expressing concern over> the rising fuel prices, wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi urging him to lower the taxes charged by the Centre on petrol and diesel >"to check the overall inflation" in the country. In her communication, Banerjee said that the Centre has been constantly increasing the cess component of Central tax revenues, which resulted in denying the states their legitimate share.

  • On Saturday, some Opposition leaders >shared video footage from 1973 in which then Jan Sangh leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee is seen arriving in Parliament on a bullock cart to "protest an increase of 7 paise in petrol prices".

  • Senior Congress leader >Shashi Tharoor tweeted, "Rare footage from 1973 of an opposition protest when petrol prices were raised by seven Paise." "Atal Bihari Vajpayee arrived in Parliament on a bullock cart (which would not be possible today with the new security restrictions on vehicle entry into the complex!)," he said.

  • Sharing the same video which he said he received on WhatsApp, Trinamool Congress leader >Derek O'Brien tweeted, "History. Ouch. When petrol prices were increased by a few paisa (7 paisa?) in 1973, Atal Bihari Vajpayee had travelled to #Parliament on a bullock cart in protest."

  • Aam Aadmi Party Delhi MLA >Somnath Bharti said that in 1973, Vajpayee travelled in a bullock cart to Parliament to oppose an increase of 7 paise in petrol prices, and added "those were the days".

Why it matters: The hike on Monday is the >35th increase in the price of >petrol since 4 May, when State-owned oil firms ended an 18-day hiatus in rate revision they observed during Assembly elections in states like West Bengal.

The rising prices of >fuel, which will pinch the common man the most, is an >opportunity for the Opposition to try to >dent the popularity of the prime minister. With inputs from PTI

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