Amid the pyrotechnics over the passage of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill, a plaintive complaint emerged from the Opposition leaders in the Lok Sabha about being consistently overlooked when it came to consultations over legislation.
The former Union Minister M. Veerappa Moily, while speaking on the debate on the GST in the Lok Sabha, was particularly upset, over what he termed as being treated as a “junior partner” in the process of legislation.
“Our only concern [with regard to the GST] which is shared by all of us in the Lok Sabha including the ruling parties [NDA] is that this House has been taken as a junior partner in this process. You have not taken this House seriously. You always think that the Upper House or the Rajya Sabha is more important. That is why you discuss only with them,” he said.
The GST case
He spoke to The Hindu, elaborating on his point. “Yes, I do believe that we have been overlooked. Just look at the specific case of the GST, no one from the Lok Sabha was involved when a select committee was set up on the Bill; it could have been made into a Joint Select Committee, since the Bill originated in the Lok Sabha,” he said. On being asked whether this was an internal feeling of hurt that he was articulating, as the Congress in the Rajya Sabha had more clout because of its numerical strength in the Upper House, he denied that it was a party-specific matter. “This is not about the Congress, but about every member of the Lok Sabha,” he said.
Biju Janata Dal (BJD) chief whip Tathagata Satpathy agreed with Mr. Moily on feeling a sense of neglect, harking back to a time when coalitional politics meant a consensual style in the Lower House. “The comment that the NDA government considers Lok Sabha to be the ‘Lower’ House, meaning less important, is definitely correct. A brute majority in the Lok Sabha, [NDA has nearly 330 MPs in the Lok Sabha] has not, unfortunately, resulted in more sensitive handling of the House. Roughshod behaviour has resulted in damaging the basic functioning, not withstanding what Prime Minister Narendra Modi may claim in his speech. I now feel, maybe, a fractured verdict resulting in a coalition government might the best option for safeguarding interests of Indians across the length and breadth of the country,” he said.
Does this feeling bear out empirically? If one looks at the fact that nine controversial Bills that ran aground in the Rajya Sabha and handed over to select committees under the chairmanship of its members, there appears to be some merit to the argument — this includes the GST Bill, the Prevention of Corruption Bill, a Bill dealing with increasing Foreign Direct Investment in the insurance sector and the Enemy Property Bill.
Mr. Modi, however, appears to have been struck by this complaint, and while speaking on the GST Bill, he hastened to assure members in the Lok Sabha that this was not so. “I heard Moilyji saying that this House [Lok Sabha] is a junior partner. I felt bad when I heard that and I assure you this is not so, and I hope those who heard these words will realise this. I have opened the door to dialogue and I hope this continues,” he said.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar also denied that there was any such feeling in the government. “The Lok Sabha was where the Prime Minister intervened, where Finance Minister Arun Jaitley too spoke on the importance of the Lower House in the passage of the Bill,” he said.