LS session from Monday, Meira Kumar likely to be Speaker

New Delhi, May 31

The 15th Lok Sabha, constituted just a few days ago after the recent general elections, will begin tomorrow its first session that will see the members elect a new Speaker and the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government unveiling its agenda of governance.
On the first two days, the new members will be sworn in and the proceedings will be presided over by Mr Manikrao Gavit, 75, of the Congress, who is the seniormost member of the House and has been appointed pro tem Speaker by President Patil. Mr Gavit is a nine-time member of the House and has experience of more than 27 years. He was Minister of State for Home in the previous UPA government.
Mr Gavit will be assisted by a panel of four senior members---Basudeb Achariya (CPIM), Arjun Charan Sethi (BJD), Biren Singh Engti (Congress) and Sumitra Mahajan (BJP)---in administering the oath to the new members.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is the Leader of the House, will be the first to take oath, followed by Leader of the Opposition Lal Krishna Advani.
The new Speaker will be elected on June 3 and all indications are that the UPA will field Water Resources Minister Meira Kumar for the post. While no formal announcement has yet been made about her candidature, all signs were that she would become the first woman to be elected Speaker of the Lower House of Parliament.
Ms Meira Kumar had a meeting with Congress President and UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi during the day. She did not speak to waiting journalists on her way out. Later, Lok Sabha Secretary General P D T Achary met her, sources said.
The UPA has a strength of about 274 members in the 545-member House, including two members of the Anglo-Indian community nominated by the President. With parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Rashtriya Janata Dal extending support from the outside to the government, the ruling alliance has, in all, the backing of about 322 members of the House. As such it should have no difficulty in getting its candidate elected as the Speaker.
It is most likely that the Speaker will be elected unopposed by all sections of the House. As per covention, the UPA has already offered the Deputy Speaker's post to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main opposition party.
The President will address a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament on June 4 when she will unveil the UPA' s programmes and policies for its second straight term in office. The Rajya Sabha will begin its sittings on June 4.
The two Houses will take up the discussion on the motion of thanks to the President for her address from the next day and pass it on June 9, when the session will conclude.
Parliament will begin another session from the end of June when the UPA government will present the Union Budget for 2009-10. The previous government had presented only an interim budget and taken a vote on account till July 31, by when the budget must be passed.
The Congress's decision yesterday to field Ms Meira Kumar, who had taken over as Minister of Water Resources only the previous day, had come as a surprise because it was generally believed till then that the party's choice for the post would be Mr Kishore Chandra Deo, a member of the Lok Sabha from Andhra Pradesh.
Highly placed sources in the party told NetIndian last night that the party had also considered Ms Girja Vyas, the chairperson of the National Commission for Women, for the coveted position but had finally decided in favour of Ms Meira Kumar, who has been elected to the House from Sasaram in Bihar.
The decision was taken at a meeting of the core committee of the Congress held yesterday at which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Ms Gandhi and other senior leaders were present.
If elected, Ms Meira Kumar,64, the daughter of former Deputy Prime Minister Jagjivan Ram, will be the first woman to adorn the post of the Speaker of Lok Sabha.
Ms Meira Kumar, a prominent Dalit face of the Congress and a former officer of the Indian Foreign Service (IFS), had served as the Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment in the previous UPA government.
If the BJP gets the Deputy Speaker's post, the party's choice could be Ms Sumitra Mahajan, sources said.
Ms Meira Kumar has a Master's degree in English and a degree in Law, as well as an advanced diploma in Spanish. This is her fifth term in the Lok Sabha. She has served on various parliamentary committees and has been a General Secretary of the Congress party and a member of its working committee.
She joined the IFS in 1973 and served in Indian missions in Madrid and London as well as in the Ministry of External Affairs in Delhi before resigning from the service in 1985 to join politics.
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