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The BBC's Satish Jacob
"The government is going to have a difficult time"
 real 28k

Union leader P K Ganguly
"It is hitting at the root of our economic sovereignty"
 real 28k

Women's activisit Veena Nair
"Women's quota legislation could be squeezed out"
 real 28k

Monday, 29 November, 1999, 12:21 GMT
Stormy start for Indian parliament
Protest outside parliament Communist Party protesters push against a police barricade

The winter session of India's parliament has opened in Delhi amid street protests and an opposition walkout over controversial new legislation.

Parliament is debating a bill opening up the insurance industry to private and foreign investment.

Also on the agenda is legislation to reserve one third of seats in parliament and state assemblies for women.

The insurance bill, which was formally introduced in the lower house a month ago, is opposed by left-wing and other smaller parties.

It proposes a 26% limit on foreign participation in an Indian company.

The government says the bill will lead to improved services by introducing competition.

However, the BJP-led ruling coalition has been accused of going back on its earlier opposition to opening up the sector to foreign multinationals.

Job losses

Left-wing members shouted slogans such as "Withdraw the insurance bill" and "Protect the country's sovereignty" before walking out of the lower house.

Outside parliament, thousands of bank and insurance workers staged a protest against the bill which they fear will lead to job losses.

Women's groups are lobbying hard Women's quotas: A controversial issue
A row has also developed over government-sponsored plans to introduce a quota system for women.

The radical bill to amend the constitution to provide for a 33% reservation of seats for women has already seen stormy times in parliament.

However, the draft makes no mention of quotas for women from backward castes, which has been demanded by two left-wing parties.

Congress unhappy

The main opposition Congress Party, which has made clear that it is not obliged to support the government's economic legislation, staged a protest on a different front.

Congress members of the upper house (Rajya Sabha) walked out over the government's refusal to drop the name of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi from a list of people under investigation for alleged corruption in the Bofors arms scandal.

The Congress, led by Rajiv Gandhi's widow Sonia, said it would "take the fight to the streets, starting with a demonstration and a petition to President K R Narayanan."

Congress workers also held a protest on the streets of the capital.

The 19-day parliamentary session promises to be a stormy one as the government has a string of legislation it wants to get passed.

These deal with issues such as intellectual property rights, plant varieties, protecting farmers' rights and patent laws.

Some of the bills require a constitutional amendment and this cannot be achieved without the co-operation of the Congress Party.

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See also:
11 Nov 99 |  South Asia
India introduces women's bill
22 Oct 99 |  South Asia
Rajiv Gandhi in arms scam charges
19 Oct 99 |  South Asia
Sonia to lead parliamentary opposition
16 Oct 99 |  South Asia
Vajpayee promises tolerance

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