Longer Rajya Sabha sit-ins during winter session: Hamid Ansari

The Hindu, December 24, 2010

The Upper House will meet from 11am to 6pm every day, with Question Hour scheduled between 12 and 1pm, says Rajya Sabha chairman Ansari

After asking new Members of Parliament not to disrupt proceedings, Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari has now ruled that in the coming winter session starting 24 November, the Upper House will sit an extra hour every day to make up for time that may be lost to political protests.

The vice-president has also moved the timing of Question Hour, which has been routinely disrupted by rowdy MPs, from the first thing in the morning to between 12 noon and 1pm every day.

Cracking the whip in anticipation of disruptions, Ansari has decided that the Upper House will meet from 11am to 6pm every day?an hour longer than usual.

Political analysts believe the twin moves will increase the productivity of the parliamentarians. ?This is a welcome step because it will increase the productivity of the Rajya Sabha. The new government is keen to take up reforms and it can only be done through Parliament. The NDA (National Democratic Alliance) government is keen that new legislation are passed. These legislation can only be passed if Parliament functions and it functions for longer hours,? said Jai Mrug, a Mumbai-based political analyst.

Key pieces of legislation that the government wants to take up in the month-long winter session include introducing amendments to the Land Acquisition Bill; raising the cap on foreign direct investment (FDI) in the insurance sector to 49%; and a constitutional amendment to allow a goods and services tax (GST).

The government is also trying to push through labour reforms and two important Bills in the health sector: the Assisted Reproductive Technologies (Regulation) Bill and the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (Amendment) Bill.

Additionally, there is the important matter of passing the Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Ordinance 2014 to facilitate allotment of coal mines to state-owned companies that need the fuel, and to private entities in businesses such as power, iron and steel, and cement for so-called captive consumption.

Ordinances, passed when Parliament is not in session, need to be approved by Parliament in its next sitting, failing which they lapse.

According to PRS Legislative Research, the 2014 budget session saw both houses of Parliament work for over 100% of their scheduled sitting time. However, while Question Hour functioned for 87% of its scheduled time in the Lok Sabha, it functioned for only 40% of its scheduled time in the Upper House. In 13 of the 27 sittings of the 2014 budget session, Question Hour in Rajya Sabha was adjourned within a few minutes of start, due to disruptions by MPs.

Interestingly, the Rajya Sabha witnessed more disruptions than the Lok Sabha, but made up for the lost time by working late on several days. The Lok Sabha worked for 104% of the scheduled time, and Rajya Sabha for 106% of the scheduled time to make up for losses from disruptions. Reasons for disruption in the Rajya Sabha included protests by All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) MPs against an allegedly derogatory article on its leader and former Tamil Nadu chief minister J. Jayalalithaa. Opposition parties, especially the Congress party, also protested in support of their demand for a debate on the reported bugging of Union minister Nitin Gadkari?s home.

?Given the example of the past productivity of the Parliament, it has to be seen how much it will help increase productivity of parliamentarians,? Mrug said.

In the upcoming session, the government is set to introduce amendments to several laws, including those covering marriage, consumer rights and land revenue. The Bill to amend marriage laws is likely to be more ?women-friendly? and will allow termination of marriage on grounds of ?irretrievable breakdown?.

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