16th Lok Sabha was most fruitful in fiscal legislative work

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Livemint, February 13, 2019

Dominant part of legislative work done by the 16th LS was from finance ministry

The 16th Lok Sabha has been very fruitful, especially in the case of fiscal legislation. It is a different matter whether we disagree or not on specific provisions. Arun Jaitley has done a wonderful job in moving so many Bills on fiscal legislation that has contributed to improving the nation’s economic framework.

The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code introduced in 2016 and the Fugitive Economic Offenders Act, 2018, are among them. Rolling out the goods and services tax (GST), into which a lot of legislative work has gone, is a landmark reform of the current Lok Sabha.

The dominant part of the legislative work done by the current Lok Sabha was from the finance ministry. The experience has been wonderful. There may have been differences of opinion between the ruling party and the opposition, but the financial business of the government has not been disrupted.

Another major area of legislative work has been the ease of doing business. The current Lok Sabha accorded priority to law-making related to the ease of doing business as well as social welfare legislation.
However, one weak point, if I may say so, is the subsuming of the railway budget into the general budget. I believe this was not a good move. Railways should have a separate budget which should be discussed in Parliament, a process that will benefit the national carrier. My experience is that despite all the heated exchanges on the floor of the House, it has been a very fruitful Lok Sabha.

One area of concern is that the legislative business emphasized on ease of doing business that benefits business houses and corporate entities. The over liberalization or regulations for the sake of the ease of doing business has a flip side.

We have to remember that there are economic offenders who have fled the country, which speaks of the corporate governance standards. So, unrestrained liberalization of regulations will weaken the system. Unfortunately, there has been too much focus on liberalization of rules that benefits businesses.
I have one suggestion. The Prime Minister should have found more time to attend Parliament. Prime Ministers such as Jawharlal Nehru, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, and Manmohan Singh have spent their valuable time in attending Parliament. The Prime Minister and other senior ministers attending Parliament will make the legislative business more fruitful besides adding respect to Parliament. Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) in the 16th Lok Sabha has very rarely attended Parliament.

Even with absolute majority, the current ruling party could not bulldoze its way into making laws. One example that can be mentioned is the bill to amend the Land Acquisition Act (which did not reach anywhere). This Lok Sabha could contribute meaningfully to law making.

There are merits and demerits of the make up of a ruling party. If we talk about a coalition government, a strong one will be good. However, if in a coalition government, small constituents become pressure groups, it is very difficult to take strong decisions. Also, unilateral decisions by a ruling party are also harmful.

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