Another Session of Parliament Ends With Business Unfinished
With Rajya Sabha passing six out of seven Bills in less than 15 minutes, Chakshu Roy writes on hurried legislation.
The winter session of Parliament ended on Wednesday. The last 20 days were testament to the fact that parliamentary functions continue to be sacrificed at the altar of political gain. Not that this is something new. Parliamentary disruption seems to have become a matter of routine in our country.
In 2008 when the Finance Minister’s Budget speech was being disrupted, Somnath Chatterjee the Speaker of the 14th Lok Sabha while admonishing Members of Parliament had remarked,
I am sorry to say that you are all working overtime to finish democracy in this country.
At the end of the parliamentary calendar for 2015, it would be useful to analyse the opportunity lost to the country because of a non-productive legislature. Currently, this lost opportunity is being talked about in the context of the constitutional amendment required to kickstart the goods and services tax regime in the country.
While the GST Bill is important, there are roughly 60 other legislative proposals which are awaiting parliamentary scrutiny and approval. These are proposals to enact new laws or to amend existing laws. Some of these were initiated by the UPA government and others were policy ideas of the current government. The common thread running through them is that they impact the lives of every citizen in this country.
Legislation On The Back-Burner
- Apart from GST Bill, there are roughly 60 others awaiting parliamentary scrutiny and approval
- Among these are three Bills critical for health sector – Mental Health Bill, Disabilities Bill and the HIV and AIDS Bill
- Bills which are in the interest of consumers such as the Real Estate Bill and the Consumer Electricity Bill were also not taken up
- Legislation shouldn’t be a hurried activity; Rajya Sabha passed six out of seven Bills in less than 15 minutes
- Exchequer of the country is compelled to bear the cost of Parliament that is unable to fulfill its constitutional mandate
The Bills That Suffered
Take for example three Bills pending in Parliament which deal with health issues. The Mental Health Bill of 2013, is trying to increase access to mental healthcare and protect the rights of persons with mental illness. The Disabilities Bill of 2014 is an attempt to create a framework to ensure independence and participation of individuals with disabilities in the fabric of our society. The HIV and AIDS Bill of 2014 will ensure that the rights of affected persons are protected and spread of the disease is checked. These Bills might not be perfect, and MPs would have to scrutinise them to ensure a comprehensive law is made by Parliament.
Health is not the only sector which is suffering because of parliamentary disruption. The Electricity Amendment Bill of 2014 which would initiate overdue reform in the electricity sector is pending in both houses. The Real Estate Bill which would protect all of us from unscrupulous builders and is regulating the real estate sector has also not been taken up for debate. The Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Amendment Bill of 2015 which would enable increased investment in this sector is also pending in both Houses.
Rajya Sabha, The Real Casualty
At the beginning of the session 19 Bills were slated for consideration and passing by both houses. Only seven Bills could be passed at the end of the session. While Lok Sabha worked for 102 percent of its scheduled time, Rajya Sabha lagged behind at 50 percent. Lok Sabha was able to pass 11 Bills while Rajya Sabha passed seven out of which six were passed in less than 15 minutes. Only the Juvenile Justice Bill saw substantial debate on the floor of the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.
Slowdown in law-making was not the only casualty of parliamentary disruption. The scrutiny of government functioning was also compromised during the session. In Rajya Sabha Question Hour functioned for 14 percent of its scheduled time. This means government ministers had a free pass from the Upper House as they did not have to answer tough questions about the functioning of their ministries. In Lok Sabha, while the Question Hour was functional (87 percent of scheduled time) continued shouting of slogans in the House nsured that its effectiveness was reduced.
Country Pays Price for Disruptions
The Chairman of Rajya Sabha at the end of the Budget Session of 2013 (the second half of which was marred by disruptions) in his closing remarks said, “Has the balance between deliberation, legislation and accountability been lost due to regular disruptions of the proceedings? Two, has the time not come to bridge the growing gap between the rules of procedure and the need felt by different sections of the House to voice opinion on matters of concern? Three, has the membership of this august body assessed the impact of disruptive behaviour on public opinion?”
This session of parliament started with a two-day discussion on the “Commitment to India’s Constitution” as part of the 125th birth anniversary celebration of Dr BR Ambedkar. On the other 18 days, when the House functioned it was obvious that political victories were more important than democratic principles. At the end of the session the country is left to pay the price for the parliament not fulfilling its constitutional mandate.
(The writer is head of Outreach, PRS Legislative)
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