Parliament Washout Ahead as Government, Opposition Harden Stand
With Congress & BJP being at loggerheads over key bills, the monsoon session is set to be a washout, writes Trina Roy
Parliament’s productivity in the last budget session was at 122%, the highest in the last 15 years. During the last session both Houses sat beyond scheduled hours to complete business. The monsoon session is scheduled to begin on July 21 and would have only 18 working days.
Session of Discontent
- Last budget session’s productivity was at 122%, the highest in the last 15 years
- Of the 64 bills pending in Parliament, 11 are being scrutinised by different parliamentary committees
- A unanimous report on the land bill would go a long way in building consensus
- Being a constitutional amendment bill, differences between the two Houses on the GST bill cannot be resolved by a joint session of Parliament
- With bipartisan cooperation unlikely, the monsoon session is all set to be stormy
Of the 64 bills pending in Parliament, 11 are being scrutinised by different parliamentary committees. They can be debated once the committees submit their respective reports. The reports of the standing committees examining the constitutional amendment to the GST (Goods and Services Tax) Bill and Land Acquisition Bill are expected in the first week of the session. The bills related to juvenile justice and protection of whistleblowers have been passed by one House and only require passage in the other. These could be taken up for passage as the session advances.
The Land Bill
Following the budget session, the government re-promulgated the land acquisition ordinance which will be in force till September 1, 2015. The bill to replace the land ordinance, promulgated in April, is pending in Lok Sabha. In the course of the budget session, the government had agreed to have the bill scrutinised by a joint committee of both Houses.
The bill enables the government to exempt five categories of projects – defence, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors, infrastructure and social infrastructure – from the requirement of obtaining consent from land holders and social impact assessment (SIA). It also exempts the acquisition of multi-cropped land with respect to five categories of projects.
Political parties are divided on the consent and SIA clauses of the bill. While the joint committee has been meeting weekly, farmers’ groups, experts and industry associations among others have put across their viewpoints to the parliamentary panel. Media reports suggest that the committee, which was scheduled to submit its report in the first of the session, has sought an extension. The bill cannot be taken up for discussion till the committee submits its report. A unanimous report would go a long way in building consensus around the bill.
The GST Bill
The Rajya Sabha Select Committee examining the GST Bill has also been hearing the views of various stakeholders, industry associations and policy experts. The committee has travelled to Kolkata and Mumbai to meet stakeholders and better appreciate different viewpoints. The GST Bill proposes a unified indirect tax system subsuming several central, state and local taxes. It permits the Centre and the states to levy GST on all goods and services. Being a constitutional amendment it requires the ratification by half the state legislatures. The essential challenge in this regard is to bring all state governments on board.
The bill has been passed by Lok Sabha and the select committee’s recommendations will be debated when it comes up for discussion in Rajya Sabha. Being a constitutional amendment bill, differences between the two Houses on the bill cannot be resolved by a joint session of Parliament.
Other Legislative Business
There are a number of the other legislations that are likely to be taken up during the monsoon session. Bills related to electricity, factories, railways, anti-hijacking were introduced by the government in previous sessions and were sent to committees for examination. Standing committees studying these bills have submitted their reports and there are no procedural impediments for discussing and passing them.
Committee reports on a number of bills pending from the earlier Lok Sabha have also been submitted. The Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill and the Registration Amendment Bill are two such proposed legislations. Whether the government will decide to carry forward these bills with amendments or withdraw them and reintroduce new legislations in this session is uncertain.
The Rajya Sabha select committee’s report on the Real Estate Bill is also scheduled to be laid by the end of the first week of session. In the previous session, the government had circulated amendments to the bill before referring it to the committee.
Cabinet decisions in the last two months also suggest that bills are likely to be included in the legislative agenda for the session. After the end of the budget session, the Union Cabinet has approved amendments to the Merchant Shipping Act of 1958 and amendments to the Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2012. Additionally, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) Bill has also been cleared by the Cabinet and might be introduced during the session.
Stormy Session Ahead
Over the last few weeks there have been a number of controversies and this may lead to disturbances in the functioning of Parliament. The question is whether Parliament will be able to function smoothly to match its performance in the previous sessions.
The agenda for the session was discussed at an all-party meeting on July 20, but the opposition was relentless in its attack on the government, demanding that Vasundhara Raje and Sushma Swaraj be investigated for extending favours to former IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi, while seeking debates on “all scams and charges” against BJP leaders.
With bipartisan cooperation unlikely, the monsoon session is all set to be stormy. The net result will be that some of the key proposed legislations may fall through.
(The writer is programme associate with PRS Legislative Research)
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