Indian Express, August 11, 2017
The 19-day Monsoon Session of Parliament concludes today. In this short session, both Houses were expected to pass more than 25 Bills on a range of subjects. The items on the government’s priority list were four Bills to replace Ordinances promulgated by the President during the inter-session period. Three of these were related to the Goods and Services Tax regime; one was on the stressed assets of banks. Parliament, however, had limited time to scrutinise the government’s legislative agenda, and to discuss significant national issues.
Disruptions of the proceedings reduced the time available for deliberation. Both Houses tried to make up for lost time by sitting beyond their scheduled hours, but still fell short. Lok Sabha worked for approximately 70% of its scheduled time, and Rajya Sabha for about 73%. The available time was also reduced due to the adjournment of both Houses in memory of sitting members who had passed away. Lok Sabha did not take up any business on two days (in memory of Vinod Khanna and Sanwar Lal Jat); Rajya Sabha did not function on the first day of the session as a mark of respect to Anil Madhav Dave, Minister of State for Environment, who passed away in May.
Lok Sabha spent 28 hours, Rajya Sabha 22 hours, discussing Bills. The government’s legislative agenda sailed smoothly through Lok Sabha. Two Bills extending the GST regime to Jammu and Kashmir were among the 13 that were passed. The Lower House also passed a Bill giving the country’s 20 IIMs the status of institutes of national importance and the power to award degrees.
Among the Bills that witnessed a spirited debate in both Houses was the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill, an attempt by the government to address the issue of rising corporate loan defaults. The Bill authorises the Reserve Bank of India to give directions to banks on recovering these loans. During the debate, MPs questioned the rationale of having RBI intervene in the day-to-day working of banks. Rajya Sabha passed the Bill on Wednesday.
In all, however, only seven Bills were approved by the Upper House. The government was also unable to secure the passage of a key clause in The Constitution (123rd Amendment) Bill, which gives the National Commission on Backward Classes (NCBC) constitutional status. As reported by this newspaper, the main clause of the Bill which dealt with the composition of the NCBC, had to be dropped due to the absence of enough ruling party members in the Upper House.
National issues also resonated in Parliament. Approximately 55 hours were devoted to discussing the agrarian crisis, suicides by farmers, floods, mob violence, lynching, and atrocities on Dalits and minorities in both Houses. Rajya Sabha also discussed for more than five hours the country’s foreign policy and strategic ties with its neighbours. Question Hour was suspended in both Houses to discuss the 75th anniversary of the Quit India Movement. Both Houses passed a resolution pledging the building of a better India.
The Session has not been free from controversy. The Speaker suspended five MPs for persistently and wilfully obstructing the proceedings of Lok Sabha. Early on in the session, Rajya Sabha had to be adjourned because of lack of quorum in the House. On Wednesday, the government introduced the Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill at short notice and referred it to a Joint Committee of both Houses. This prompted protests from MPs who complained that they did not get the time to study the Bill, and that the reference to a Joint Committee would bypass scrutiny of the Bill by the Parliamentary Committee on Finance.
As the Monsoon Session ends and Parliament heads into an extended recess, the key takeaway remains slow legislative activity: of the 25 Bills listed, only nine could be passed by both Houses.