Stormy session marks Indian Parliament’s last session before 2014 elections

Updated 06 February 2014
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Stormy session marks Indian Parliament’s last session before 2014 elections

NEW DELHI: Congress party hopes of pushing through new laws to tackle corruption stalled on Wednesday when the Indian Parliament’s last session before a general election was adjourned amid rowdy scenes over the proposed creation of a new state.
The session, which will go through to Feb. 21, is seen as a final chance for Congress, which leads the ruling United Progressive Alliance (UPA) coalition, to convince voters it is taking action on graft and to showcase leader Rahul Gandhi.
After 10 years in power, its popularity has sagged in large part over a series of graft scandals as well as its inability to halt a slide in the economy.
The main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) calls it a lame duck government that is merely making a last-ditch attempt to shore up support. It should leave decisions to the next government, BJP leaders say.
On the eve of Parliament’s reopening, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed to all parties to help push through legislation. But Finance Minister P. Chidambaram acknowledged that might be a forlorn hope.
“I doubt whether it will pass any law. We’ve to go through the ritual of attending Parliament every day and coming back empty handed,” Chidambaram said in a speech to students.
Congress will try to push through 39 bills, including six anti-corruption bills, to address public anger over graft. They address issues such as protection for whistleblowers and corruption in the judiciary. It will also try to pass an interim budget expected to contain some pre-election sops for voters.
But shouting and protests over the creation of a new southern state derailed other matters when the session began, despite speaker Meira Kumar’s appeals for calm. The new state, Telangana, would be carved out of Andhra Pradesh and should generate vote-winning support for Congress.
Members of Parliament from Andhra Pradesh crowded around the rostrum of the chamber to denounce the proposed split, some carrying placards saying “Hail United Andhra Pradesh.”
The turn of events was hardly a surprise and the same might happen again on Thursday.
The Economic Times urged the opposition not to block the functioning of what it called the worst-performing House since independence from Britain in 1947.
“The opposition should also agree to cooperate in passing other important pieces of economic legislation cleared by various standing committees,” it said in an editorial.



The world’s largest democracy must hold a parliamentary election by May and the date is expected to be announced round about the close of the session.
The bills due to come up for debate cover issues that Gandhi, the fourth generation member of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that leads Congress, has championed, including women’s empowerment and graft.
It may be too little, too late.
Opinion polls put the BJP, a conservative Hindu nationalist party spearheaded by Narendra Modi, ahead of Congress.
The newly formed Aam Aadmi, or Common Man, Party (AAP), which campaigns against corruption and took power in the capital Delhi in local elections in December, could draw voters away from either one while a number of smaller parties are discussing the formation of a “Third Front.”
Chandan Mitra, a BJP upper house member, said Parliament should not be rushed into passing bills without due scrutiny.
“There is no obligation on the part of the opposition to allow Mr Rahul Gandhi to get his agenda pushed though,” Mitra told Reuters before the session opened. “The government is trying to end this term on a high, but we don’t want to give them an easy ride.”
Also on the slate is a bill on reserving a bloc of parliamentary seats for women, reflecting the growing prominence of women’s issues after a series of sexual assaults.
Mitra said the interim budget was a priority.
“The interim budget will be passed as no one wants a shutdown,” he said.
Ajay Gudavarthy, a politics professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said Congress hoped to use the session to present itself and Gandhi as forces that can fight corruption.
“The party is trying to build an image for Rahul Gandhi. He is a bit of a non-symbol now and that is a big problem,” he said.
Mandira Kala, head of research at PRS Legislative Research, said the corruption issue should not distract attention from the economy. Once a star performer, India’s growth has slowed in recent years and it is now weathering a storm in emerging markets.
“When you look at what the economy needs there are a lot of bills that are not being looked at,” said Kala, picking out a pending higher education bill and a mining bill as examples.”


More than 20 injured in Rome escalator collapse

Updated 59 min 24 sec ago
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More than 20 injured in Rome escalator collapse

  • Media reports said witnesses spoke of football fans, seemingly drunk, jumping and dancing on the escalator just before its collapse
  • Rome’s public transport is often criticized as running on obsolete equipment

ROME: More than 20 people, mainly Russian football fans, were injured Tuesday when an escalator in a metro station in central Rome collapsed, firefighters said.
Most of those hurt, one seriously, suffered leg injuries after getting entangled in the escalator’s mangled mechanics, Italian media added.
A video of the drama shows the descending escalator at Repubblica station suddenly and dramatically pick up speed with dozens of people on it, many screaming as they piled on top of one another at the foot of the moving stairway.
Media reports said witnesses spoke of football fans, seemingly drunk, jumping and dancing on the escalator just before its collapse, but supporters denied this ever happened.
“In any event, we are here to understand what happened and to offer our support to the wounded and their families,” Rome mayor Virginia Raggi told journalists at the scene.
Some of the victims were seen wrapped in blankets and some wore neck braces as they were taken away from the scene on stretchers by emergency crews.
Several investigations have been opened, and the metro station near Rome’s Termini train station was closed.
The horrific events took place around 1730 GMT, just over an hour before the kickoff of a Champions League match between Italy’s Roma and Russian club CSKA Moscow.
The Russian fans were headed for the metro that would have linked them to the train to the stadium.
There was heightened security in Rome for some 1,500 Russian supporters, notoriously rowdy, expected to watch the game.
One Russian supporter, the subject of a stadium ban, had already been stopped at the airport as he tried to enter.
But according to Italian media, this did not prevent an assortment of incidents around the stadium hosting the match. One Russian fan was stabbed with a knife, and two others were hurt in clashes with other supporters.
Roma won the group stage match 3-0, tweeting after the match that: “The thoughts of everyone at #ASRoma are with the supporters injured prior to tonight’s game. The club will do everything it can to provide the right support and assistance to those in need.”
Red-Blue World, a CSKA fan group, set up a collection fund for those injured, as well as fans hurt in violence near the stadium.
Rome’s public transport is often criticized as running on obsolete equipment.
In recent years, more than a dozen municipal buses have caught fire while in service, with several reports of metro passengers injured by malfunctioning hardware.
And a massive bridge collapse in Genoa in August — which killed 43 people — also raised safety questions about transport infrastructure in Italy.
Incidents on escalators have caused injuries, and even deaths, around the world.
In 2015, a woman was killed after she plunged through flooring over an escalator in a Chinese department store.
Security camera footage showed a panel in the floor giving way as the woman stepped off the escalator. As she fell half-way through she pushed her son forward, and a nearby shop assistant dragged him to safety.
And in March 2017, around 20 people were injured at a Hong Kong shopping center when an escalator suddenly changed direction, sending people hurtling toward its base.