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India parliament adjourns early amid fresh scandals

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

India's parliament was forced to adjourn early Wednesday, stalling its economic reform drive, after the Congress-led government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was weighed down by fresh scandals.

The government, rocked by repeated controversies, was put on the backfoot with two of its cabinet ministers embroiled in corruption probes.

The controversies forced parliament to adjourn two days early as an emboldened opposition said it would refuse to allow any legislative debate unless the ministers resigned.

The premature end to the session meant the government could not pass key economic reform bills aimed at drawing more foreign investment to spur a sharply slowing economy.

Parliament has been repeatedly paralysed by graft scandals throughout Congress's term, and lower house speaker Meira Kumar called the early adjournment "a betrayal of the trust of the people who elected their representatives to raise their issues".

The derailed reform measures included one to raise the foreign investment in insurance to 49 percent from 26 percent and another to make it easier to buy land for factories to spur economic growth.

The government also could not pass its planned landmark food security measure to supply heavily subsidized food to millions of poor.

The adjournment comes after revelations that the law minister and officials in Singh's office meddled in a police probe into alleged illegal awards of coalfields at cut-rate prices.

The government has also been hit by the arrest of the railway minister's nephew for allegedly demanding a $160,000 bribe to arrange a plum promotion for a railway official.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday rebuked the government for interfering in the coal investigation, calling it a "sordid saga" and describing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as a "caged parrot" speaking "in its master's voice".

After denying the government ever saw a report into charges by the auditor that it may have given away $33 billion in windfall gains to firms to mine coal, the CBI's chief then admitted top officials had altered the document.

"The heart of the report was changed on suggestions of government officials," the court said, adding the CBI should stand up to all "pulls and pressures".

Singh, in addition to being prime minister, was coal minister for part of the period under scrutiny, leading to opposition demands for him to also quit.

His government is still reeling from 2010 charges by the auditor that throwaway allocation of telecom spectrum may have cost the exchequer $31 billion. Some 19 people, including a former minister, face trial over that scandal.

But the setbacks for the Congress also came on a rare day of good news for the left-leaning party that boosted its confidence ahead of 2014 national polls.

Congress wrested back the southern state of Karnataka in elections from the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party which had been felled by an iron ore mining scandal alleged to have cost public coffers $3.6 billion.

Singh called the Congress victory "a clear result against the (Hindu nationalist) ideology of the BJP" and asserted that the party would replicate the results in the 2014 general elections.

"The people of the country know what's what and they will reject the BJP ideology (nationally) as the result in Karnataka shows," he said on Twitter.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130508/india-parliament-adjourns-early-amid-fresh-scandals