NEW DELHI: The Rajya Sabha witnessed a heated war of words between the opposition and the BJP while Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman was speaking on the government's handling of the economy on Wednesday, with the Congress, TMC and the Left parties staging a walkout in the middle of her speech, which she termed as "shocking".
Replying to a short-duration discussion on the state of the economy, Sitharaman compared the macroeconomic indicators with those of the Congress era and said she was in a mood to emphasise how many years were lost on the GST rollout.
"If we talk on GST, I am in a mood to compare... there was a conscious effort of India making one market. How many years did we lose? the compensation matter was not addressed by the UPA and as a result, many of the states did not have the confidence. they are talking about trust today," she said, to which senior Congress leader Anand Sharma rose on his chair and asked her to read a letter written by then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi to the then prime minister.
He said: "The bill went to the standing committee during our time and came back. You should please read the letter, which the then chief minister of Gujarat wrote to the then prime minister and you should also read and be informed about their discussions that your three-member team sat with us because it was a constitution amendment bill."
Sitharaman objected, saying the opposition should listen to her reply when those on the treasury benches sat and listened to even baseless allegations.
Deputy Chairman Harivansh, who was in the chair, said he had not allowed Sharma to speak, but the Congress leader continued, to which the finance minister quipped: "Any number of allegations now will not suffice.
If there are any things objectionable, there are times and ways in which any member of the House can get up and say."
However, the Congress and Trinamool Congress (TMC) staged a walkout, which Sitharaman termed as "shocking".
"Shocking sir, a short-duration discussion is called. We agree readily. Everybody's speech was heard by me except for a few minutes and when I want to reply, they do not have the inner strength to hear the reply," she said.
Sitharaman also took a jibe on the opposition members who accused the government of "regressive taxation" policies.
"Whoever brought in the MAT, I know it was brought in 1987, but (for) 10 long years (during the days of UPA I and II), it was only aggravated rather than withdrawn. MAT is seen even today as a very very regressive tax," she said, while also referring to the 2012 retrospective taxation decision taken by the then government.
The minister said it "surprises" her that the NDA government was being condemned for reducing corporate tax by those, whose government globalised the Indian economy in 1991.
"Who were the ones who did globalisation? Who opened the economy? Why was it done? It was okay then and now it is not correct? What is this hypocrisy?" she asked.
Earlier during the discussion, the opposition parties attacked the government over the condition of the economy, saying the country was heading towards a deep crisis and people did not have money to buy even day-to-day articles.
As the Congress walked out, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar was heard saying, "We heard the entire discussion. You cannot even hear one reply. This is the limit."
He added: "There is no courage to hear the truth. You cannot run away from the truth with allegations and counter-allegations. "
Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu, who came later, said members should have the patience to hear out a minister's reply and if they were not satisfied by a response, they should walk out after the reply was over.
"I have an observation to make. Some of the opposition members came to me after the House was adjourned and requested me for this two-and-a-half-hour of short-duration discussion. They assured me that if I accept their request like the debate on air pollution, they will see to it that they sit till late in the evening and conclude this discussion. They said they had discussed with other members and all had the same opinion," he said.
Naidu added that it was then that the two-and-a-half hours were allotted for the discussion but later, the time was increased due to a demand from the members.
He said: "You may not be satisfied by the reply, but the point I want to make is that when 23-24 members have made their suggestions, they must have the patience to hear the minister also, who has to respond and still, at the end of the minister's reply, there is no rule that you should get satisfied.
"Then the best way is walking out, which is the accepted tradition of the parliamentary system in our country."
Naidu also said he was "disappointed" with the way the minister was not allowed to make her response by some members, adding, "I am happy that a good number of members sat through the debate. It is our duty to get the response of the minister."