Takeaway: For every hour of work done, one House lost 5, other 4

Indian Express, February 03, 2017

The disrupted winter session of Parliament came to a close Friday, the least productive session during the term of the 16th Lok Sabha so far.

The presiding officers of both Houses registered their unhappiness over the frequent disruptions. Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan said the loss of 91:59 hours tarnished the image of members. Rajya Sabha chairman Mohammad Hamid said all sections of the House need to introspect on the distinction between dissent, disruption and agitation.

Lok Sabha worked for just 19 hours while losing 92, Rajya Sabha for 22 hours while losing more than 86. In other words, for every hour of work done, Lok Sabha lost five hours while Rajya Sabha lost four.

Figures released by the Lok Sabha secretariat showed this was the lowest during the term of the current Lok Sabha in terms of hours, while data from PRS Legislative Research showed that productivity hit a low in percentage terms, too, during the same period.

“Rajya Sabha worked only for 21 per cent of the time it was scheduled to. In the case of Lok Sabha, the working time was even lower, just 17 per cent,” said Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar.

So far in the 16th Lok Sabha, the average productivity of Lok Sabha has been 92% and that of Rajya Sabha 71%, according to PRS Legislative Research.

Soon after the two Houses adjourned sine die, the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs recommended their prorogation to the President. Home Minister Rajnath Singh chaired the meeting. The recommendation put an end to speculation that the government might not go in for a prorogation of at least one House so that Parliament could be reconvened for a brief special session to clear bills aimed at putting the GST regime in place. Sources indicated that the budget session may be convened early, either towards the end of January or the beginning of February.

Ananth Kumar was noncommittal when asked about the government plans on the GST-related bills. He said proposals were pending before the GST Council. “It will meet on December 22 and 23 and let it decide,” he said. “Once it gives its mandate, it is our duty to give it legislative shape.” Pressed further, he said, “We will cross the bridge when we reach it.”

In Lok Sabha, the Speaker expressed the hope that “there will be no disruptions during future sessions and we will all work in a better manner, resulting in meaningful discussions and a positive exchange of views”. “I am confident of receiving cooperation from leaders of all parties,” she said.

In Rajya Sabha, the chairman said, “Regular and continuous disruptions characterised this session. The symbolism of dignified protests, so essential for orderly conduct of parliamentary proceedings, was abandoned… The prohibition in the rules about shouting slogans, displaying posters and obstructing proceedings by leaving their assigned places was consistently ignored by all sections of the House. Peace prevailed only when obituaries were read.”

The two Houses hardly transacted any legislative business. The only exception was the passage of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill by both Houses. Rajya Sabha had cleared it two days ago and Lok Sabha hurriedly passed it on the final day after a short discussion.

Numerically, Lok Sabha could boast of having passed more bills, but these other bills were urgent financial matters, which included that Taxation Laws (Second Amendment) Bill, the Supplementary Demands for Grants (General), the Demands for Excess Grants (General) and Appropriation Bills.

Rajya Sabha went through an incomplete debate on demonetisation the first day of the session before a deadlock set in over the demand for the presence of Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the entire discussion. Lok Sabha could not discuss the issue because of disagreement between the two sides on the rule under which it could be taken up.

Veteran parliamentarian and BJP stalwart L K Advani hit the headlines after he expressed his despair over the manner in which Parliament was functioning. He remarked that he felt like resigning his seat.

Disabilities Bill: one issue that united MPs in both Houses

After Rajya Sabha earlier this week, members of Lok Sabha put aside their differences Friday and joined hands to pass the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Bill 2016. The bill covers 21 kinds of disabilities and provides for protection of persons with such disabilities against discrimination.

An amendment moved by Kavitha Kalvakuntla of the TRS, seeking a raise in job reservation from four per cent to five, was put to vote following a demand by K C Venugopal of the Congress. It was defeated 121 to 43. Replying to a brief debate, Minister of Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawar Chand Gehlot announced a scheme for a universal identity card for disabled people; this would also be linked to the Aadhar card.

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