Not business as usual

Updated - November 17, 2021 02:09 am IST

Published - May 15, 2015 12:54 am IST

The government >got a great deal of legislative work done during the just-concluded Budget session, which might suggest that despite its lack of numbers in the Rajya Sabha it remained dominant in Parliament. The ruling dispensation succeeded in getting all of 23 Bills — including those related to the Union Budget and the Railway Budget — through, while Ministers made 50 statements. It ensured that time lost through disruptions caused by the Opposition was more than compensated for by the extra hours both Houses sat. The government actually gained from the repeated interruptions of question hour in the Rajya Sabha and its cancellation on some days in the Lok Sabha, for Ministers could avoid being called to account in the House on pressing issues. The Opposition was permitted just one discussion under Rule 193 and two calling attention motions in the Lok Sabha, and one discussion under Rule 176 and four calling attention motions in the Rajya Sabha. The pieces of legislation approved by Parliament included not just the one relating to the historic >India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement , but also key reform measures: the >Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2015 ; the >Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2015 ; the >Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill, 2015 and the >Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2014 . And then there was the Bill that fulfilled an election promise while sending out the message that the government wants to tackle corruption — the >Black Money Undisclosed Foreign Income and Assets (Imposition of Tax) Bill , 2015

But these impressive figures notwithstanding, the message that emerged from the Budget session was of a government on the back foot. The return of an apparently >rejuvenated Rahul Gandhi saw the Congress in a belligerent mood in Parliament. Indeed, the party’s heir-apparent appeared to even unnerve those on the ruling party benches. The Opposition also succeeded in >sending three Bills critical to the government’s reform agenda, to parliamentary panels: the Land Acquisition Bill has gone to a joint committee of the Houses, while Bills relating to Goods and Services Tax and the regulation of the real estate sector have been sent to select committees of the Rajya Sabha. In the case of the Land Bill, the Opposition’s campaign outside Parliament combined with the government’s inability to address agricultural distress, has taken some of the sheen off it. The government’s breaking with tradition in not sending several new Bills to parliamentary panels, packaging some items of legislation as money bills to circumvent the lack of numbers, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi skipping the vote on the GST Bill in the Lok Sabha, have not gone unnoticed. In politics, perception is often more important than mere statistics — it is time the government and its parliamentary managers realised this.

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