Parliament failed to function on Thursday, in the face of persistent demands by the Opposition for a debate on the high exposure of public financial institutions – mainly the State Bank of India (SBI) and the Life Insurance Corporation (LIC) -- to the Adani group, and the impact on them following the Hindenburg report alleging round-tripping of money by the group. The Congress has demanded investigations into the issue, either led by a Joint Parliamentary Committee or by the Chief Justice of India.
On January 30, LIC said that the amount it has invested in the Adani group, over a period of time, stood at ₹36,474.78 crore. SBI has lent a significant amount of money to the beleaguered group.
“Keeping public interest in mind, we want a thorough probe into the Adani issue either by a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) or a Supreme Court-monitored panel. There should also be day-to-day reporting of the investigation on the issue,” Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge told reporters. However, sources say that not all Opposition parties are on board with the mode of enquiry.
United Opposition demands probe
Regardless of this minor difference of opinion, the issue has united the entire Opposition, with all major parties -- including the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Samajwadi Party, the Janata Dal (United), the Shiv Sena, the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Communist Party of India, the CPI (Marxist), the Indian Union Muslim League, the National Conference and the Kerala Congress -- participating in a strategy meeting called by Mr. Kharge on Thursday morning. The Bharat Rashtra Samithi, which skipped the meeting, ensured that it was represented at a joint Opposition press conference later in the day. The Trinamool Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party, which have both often raised questions about the Congress’ status as the lead Opposition party -- also attended the meeting.
In a tweet, TMC MP Derek O’Brien said, ”LIC, SBI forced to invest in questionable enterprises, savings of crores of poor & middle class at risk.” He further added, “Deafening silence of [the Enforcement Directorate] on India’s biggest scam. Institutions like LIC, SBI lost more than 1 lakh crore. Will Government of India use draconian PMLA [Prevention of Money Laundering Act] now like they do to hound opposition and topple elected governments?”
On Monday, Opposition parties will hold a sit-in protest at the Gandhi statue within Parliament premises.
Washout in Parliament
The Rajya Sabha functioned for a total of eight minutes while the Lok Sabha functioned for 13 minutes on Thursday. Sources indicated that the Friday session is also expected to be a washout with the Opposition continuing with its demand.
In the Upper House, nine members -- Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, Shiv Sena’s Priyanka Chaturvedi, CPI’s Binoy Viswam and P. Sandosh Kumar, CPI(M)‘s Elamaram Kareem and A.A. Rahim, DMK’s Tiruchi Siva, BRS’ K. Keshava Rao and AAP’s Sanjay Singh -- moved notices under Rule 267 demanding the suspension of business to debate the revelations on the Adani group. Rajya Sabha chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar rejected all the notices, saying they were not in order. This led to loud protests from the Opposition benches, who stood on their seats demanding a debate, forcing Mr. Dhankhar to adjourn the house till 2 p.m. Soon after the session reconvened post lunch, Opposition members started shouting slogans demanding a debate. This time, the House was adjourned for the day within two minutes.
The Lok Sabha also saw similar scenes. When the House assembled in the morning, Speaker Om Birla welcomed a Parliamentary delegation from Zambia and then proceeded to begin the Question Hour. However, as soon as Mr. Birla called out the name of Gujarat MP Poonamben Maadam, Opposition MPs rushed to the well of the House and started raising slogans on the Adani stock market crash.
The Speaker repeatedly asked the MPs to let the House function. But as the disruption continued, he adjourned the House till 2 p.m.. The protests continued in the post-lunch session, and despite pleas by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prahlad Joshi to allow the smooth running of the House, the Opposition continued raising slogans, forcing adjournment for the entire day.
Thursday was supposed to be the first full sitting day of the Budget session of Parliament, which started on January 31. President Droupadi Murmu delivered her address to the joint sitting of the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha on the opening day and the Union Budget for 2023-24 was presented on Wednesday.
Adani group stocks have taken a beating on the bourses after Hindenburg Research made a litany of allegations in its report, including fraudulent transactions and share price manipulation at the Gautam Adani-led group. The group dismissed the charges as lies, saying that it complies with all laws and disclosure requirements. It termed the Hindenburg report baseless and threatened to sue the short-seller.