Most parliamentary assurances fall flat

The Economic Times, April 18, 2012

Forget broken electoral promises of political parties, even assurances given in Parliament by ministers are seldom fulfilled. Data compiled by a committee chaired by Maneka Gandhi on government assurances reveal that in a majority of cases, the ministers’ assurances on the floor of the House have either remained not acted upon at all or got entangled in administrative and jurisdictional processes.

Delays in implementing a few assurances given by ministers run into decades while in some other cases, assurances have died a natural death as delays have made issues irrelevant.

The classic example is of the Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Act, 1988, which is yet to be implemented. The ministry of finance says the ministry of law initially cited various infirmities in the Act that took time, almost two decades, to be sorted out. Finally, a new Bill was introduced in 2011 that is with the standing committee for examination.

The 2011-12 committee of the Lok Sabha, while taking note of the delays, was left with no option but to drop the assurance, giving a reprieve to the ministry from getting caught in rules relating to parliamentary privileges of members. Similarly, it agreed to drop assurances in 22 other cases left with no option but to toe the government line that expressed its helplessness citing a series of reasons from delays in legislative process, lack of consensus, administrative issues and jurisdictional problems. In some cases, the ministry has shown complete lack of interest to implement the assurance, passing the buck to others.

As per parliamentary conventions, an assurance is required to be implemented within three months. Delays needs to get extension from the panel and an assurance can also be dropped after scrutiny in case the ministry finds strong grounds not to implement it. However, in several cases, assurances have fallen prey to procedures, legal complexities and conventions and sheer lack of interest among ministers.

Another example is the case of defaults by port trusts in repaying soft loans taken from World Bank/Government of India during 1997-98. The Rs 200-crore loan default is yet to be settled with shipping ministry suggesting that as the matter is delayed by over 9 years, fresh consultations are required with finance ministry and in a few cases, the matter has be decided by the Cabinet which might take more time.

Even this assurance has been dropped by the committee that is convinced that government helplessness is justified. The same fate has met ministry of road transport and highways proposal to amend National Highways Authority of India Act as the 2008 move is now expected to be implemented this year. Another assurance of the tourism ministry on developing a road map for tourism development has been dropped as the ministry has termed it a mere statement of facts with actual work coming from state governments. Similar is the case of nationwide raids conducted by income tax department to unearth black money. The guilty are yet to be punished and income tax department has shrugged its responsibility putting delays to legal processes.

In the case of an assurance given by the ministry of social justice and empowerment to provide reservation in private sector in 2009, the ministry has now backtracked, suggesting it gave only factual position to the question on reservation which should not be treated as assurance.

In several other cases also pertaining to look East Policy, Rajiv Gandhi Grameen Vidyutikaran Yojana (RGGVY), Hike in PDS prices, Renewal of mining lease etc the committee has dropped the assurance after ministries expresed helpnessses. The committee, however, refused to drop assurance given in 17 other cases where it was apparent that delays were on account of frivolous reasons cited by ministries. Accordingly, assurances given by ministries on theft of antiques, finalisation of the BPL list and survey of BPL population, interception of mobile calls, alleged corruption in judiciary, trauma centres along national highways, indigenous aircraft carrier have not be dropped by the ministry.

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