Opposition takes on govt for ‘rushing through’ Bills without scrutiny

Indian Express, July 22, 2019

On Monday, Trinamool Congress boycotted the House after its amendment to the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2019, was not admitted.

Tension is brewing between the government and the Opposition over the alleged attempt by the government to push through 17 Bills in the Rajya Sabha without legislative scrutiny, and also without allowing members sufficient time to move amendments.

On Monday, Trinamool Congress boycotted the House after its amendment to the Protection of Human Rights (Amendment) Bill, 2019, was not admitted.

Opposition parties, upset at the way the House is being run and Bills “pushed”, are now set to meet before the start of the House on Tuesday to decide their strategy. During Monday’s morning session, the House was adjourned twice as Opposition members flocked to the Well, shouting slogans on issues such as atrocities against Dalits and the Karnataka impasse.

On Friday, Minister of State V Muraleedharan had read out a list of 19 Bills (including two money Bills), for which he said that the Business Advisory Committee (BAC), which has representation from all parties, had allocated time.

The flashpoint on Monday, though, was the human rights Bill, transmitted to the Upper House from the Lok Sabha at 5 pm on Friday. Members protested that in listing the Bill on the very next working day no time had been given to move amendments. Instead of the customary 24 hours, just one hour was allotted on Monday morning.

Opposition MPs are also seething over the fact that only one short-duration discussion has so far been allowed in this session — on electoral reforms. Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu has informed the Opposition that the government is not keen on a discussion on how to protect media freedom, so that notice would not be admitted.

The notice, with NCP’s Sharad Pawar as the first mover, is signed by 16 parties, and also by BJP MP Subramanian Swamy.

A leader from an opposition party said: “Democracy and Parliament are being murdered. Eleven Bills have been passed so far without scrutiny in the last 25 days; 16 more Bills were announced on Friday and the government has conveyed nothing to us on extension of the session. Opposition parties will meet tomorrow at 9.45 am to discuss the matter and how best to take this up.”

In the 15th Lok Sabha, 161 of 225 Bills were sent to Standing Committees for scrutiny. In the previous — 16th — Lok Sabha, the number came down to 47 of 185 Bills, according to figures collated by PRS Legislative Research, an independent organisation that tracks the functioning of Parliament.

The government’s defence has been that Standing Committees are yet to be formed since parties have not submitted the names of their nominees to these committees. But Opposition leaders maintain that even without Standing Committees, there is a provision for Select Committees that can be exercised.

Opposition parties are also unhappy about quick adjournments during the morning session, during Zero Hour and Question Hour, which is members’ time. But proceedings, they point out, continue in the afternoon even amid a din, against established practice, when there is government business to be disposed of. On July 10, the Upper House had discussed the Union Budget for 80 minutes when nothing had been audible in the din, they said.

Sources do not rule out the possibility of the opposition parties writing jointly to the Chairman, flagging these concerns.

Trinamool’s Rajya Sabha leader Derek O’Brien said: “BAC (Business Advisory Committee) has become a toothless, time-allocation committee. We are fast losing confidence in the way the two Houses are being presided over.”

On the party’s decision to boycott the House over the human rights Bill amendments not being allowed to be moved, TMC member Sukhendu Shekhar Roy said: “The Upper House is run on rules and procedures, not on whims and fancies. Rule 95 does not give the Chair the power to take away a member’s right to move an amendment.”

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