Some business amid unparliamentary chaos

Hindu Businessline, December 27, 2010

The winter session of Parliament was an eventful non-event, to use an oxymoron. For, on paper both Houses met every day and some business was done amid chaos before adjourning for the day in a ritualistic fashion. This routine ran through the entire session before it was adjourned sine die. Of course, on the first day, November 9, there was semblance of order with even Question Hour being taken up by the Lok Sabha. The Rajya Sabha, the House of the Elders, did not see a single normal day.

An embattled Government would have opted for a sine die adjournment at the beginning of December but for its keenness to have a sitting on December 6 ? the anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition, and December 13 ? the anniversary of the terror attack on Parliament House.

Unanswered Questions

A huge casualty of the deadlock over the Opposition clamour for a JPC to probe the controversial 2G spectrum allocation issue was the Question Hour, the time to test the Government on its promise and performance. Apart from money, many hours of work go into preparing answers for the questions.

The session had 23 sittings. Every day 40 questions are listed in both Houses together for direct answers by the Government. It meant as many as 920 questions were listed for oral answers. None but a couple of them could be taken up by either House.

A modicum of legislative business done was the passage of the Bill to rename Orissa as ?Odisha’ on the first day of the session. Amidst uproarious scenes, the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) on the 2G spectrum allotment was tabled in both Houses on November 16. Appropriation Bills to the supplementary demands for grants (General Budget 2010-11) were passed by a voice vote sans discussion. The approval was crucial for the Government to be able to finance its spending in the coming months.

Key Bills in limbo

The deadlock has sent some key Bills to the limbo. These include the Companies (Second Amendment) Bill, 2010; the State Bank of India (Subsidiary Banks) Amendment Bill, 2010; the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2010; and the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulations) Amendment Bill, 2010.

While the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill, 2010, amends the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, and seeks to expand the rights of those whose land is being acquired even as it restricts the types of projects for which Government land can be acquired, the Mines and Minerals (Development and Regulations) Bill aims to make it mandatory for mining companies to share a fixed percentage of their profits with the local population.

Some of the Bills waiting to be introduced included the Banking Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010; the Recovery of Debts due to Banks and Financial Institutions (Amendment) Bill, 2010; the Chit Fund (Amendment) Bill, 2010; and the Factoring and Assignment of Receivables Bill, 2010.

Bills that scraped through

Two important Bills that were introduced amid chaos were the Protection of Women against Sexual Harassment at the Workplace Bill, the Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill to lay down judicial standards and establish a mechanism to probe charges against the Supreme Court and high court judges, including provision for declaration of their assets and liabilities.

Thus, despite the popular perception that the session was a ?washout’, it is interesting to note that some business was indeed done. John Galbraith once famously described Indian democracy as a functioning anarchy.

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