Parliament, heal thyself

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The Financial Express, September 10, 2011

If this was supposed to be the milestone session in our parliamentary history, we have wasted a fantastic opportunity. The just-concluded monsoon session of Parliament has, like the Indian cricket team?s summer visit to England, nothing to show for it. Our MPs went into the session with 81 pending Bills. When the session began, FM Pranab Mukherjee, who is effectively this government?s voice, said three major Bills, including the Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2008, would be cleared this time. He told the industry to have faith in the government on this score. But none of the three have made it. If, on the basis of this performance, industry concludes that pretty little will be done by the government till 2014, it cannot be blamed. In the 26 days for which the two Houses met, they were expected to discuss and allow for introduction 71 out of the 81 Bills, which were cleared by the parliamentary affairs ministry. This list did not include contentious Bills like the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Bill, 2011, or the Banking Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2011, which are nonetheless of tremendous significance for industry. Even from the slimmed set, only 10 got passed and another 13 introduced.

Admittedly, this session was held against the backdrop of a fierce challenge to the Parliament?s position as the supreme expression of the will of the people, from the anti-corruption brigade of Anna Hazare. It was supposed to show a different face of parliamentarians to the world. Admittedly, the Opposition behaved in a partisan way, most of the time. Proceedings were disrupted on a variety of issues like the CWG fiasco, the police crackdown in Delhi, Amar Singh?s arrest and so on, which shaved off several hours. Lok Sabha worked for only 67% of its allotted time. Rajya Sabha did even worse at 62%. Still, if the government had been keen, at least one or more of the landmark Bills could have sailed through. Among the few positives from the session is the introduction of two significant Bills, the Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority Bill, 2011, and the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2011. But, overall, it has only set a larger list of must do?s for the winter session

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