The month- long winter session of Parliament, which began on November 16, seems to be heading for another washout. Unfortunately, no major business has been transacted in both the Houses of Parliament so far. The issue of confrontation this time was the November 8 demonetisation move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the unpreparedness of the government and the Reserve Bank to meet the situation in the aftermath. No doubt it took a while for the people to understand the implications of the move. Overnight the common man was left without cash to transact his day to day expenditures. The Opposition, which was starved of issues, had promptly snatched it.
It is not as if the government managers did not expect a stormy session but they were prepared for it. The government tried to reach out to the opposition by holding an all-party meeting. On the first day of this session, Modi had told the media: "I feel a very good debate will take place in this session too. All parties will have the best of contribution. Best of efforts will be made to take all parties along in completing the government business.” However, despite his declaration that the government was willing to discuss all issues, the session has been disrupted every day so far for political reasons.
The government has several key bills listed for this session. Many legislations like the Prevention of Corruption Bill, 2013; Whistle Blowers Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2015; Maternity Benefits Bill, 2016 are on the agenda. The other crucial bills are GST related. These bills follow the decision of the GST Council recommendations of a four slab tax structure for GST with an upper limit of 28 percent. The government plans full GST rollout by April 1, 2017.
Apart from legislative business there are other important issues to discuss and debate like the recent terror attacks, India’s surgical strike across the Line of Control (LoC), Jammu and Kashmir situation and one rank one pension (OROP) for ex-servicemen which need the attention of Parliament.
Therefore it is imperative for Parliament to ensure a productive session. After all, the Parliament functions on an average just about 100 days in a year. The budgeted cost of running the Parliament is around Rs. 600 crores per year. The cost per minute is about 2.5 lakhs. Parliamentarians attending the house without transacting business tantamount to wasting this money.
Why does the opposition disrupt the proceedings? To be charitable, some say it is their genuine concern. Some other say it is to grab the voter attention. The direct telecast of the proceedings has also given them an opportunity to show to their constituents their concern for them. Thirdly, the political parties have their interests to serve. Fourthly, a walk out or boycott gets them headlines rather than a healthy debate and discussion. Lastly, it is a tit for tat politics. The Congress, which is in the opposition today, want to pay back the BJP in the same way it had suffered when it was ruling. The result is that the treasury benches and the opposition blame each for the logjam.
The M.Ps have four essential functions. They are legislative, oversight, representative responsibility, and the power of the purse responsibility. The parliamentarians should endeavour to perform all these functions. For instance, the disruption of the question hour where the members could seek information from the government should not be disrupted. Similarly, zero-hour, short notice questions and calling attention motions also can elicit information from the government. After all, a parliamentary government is described as a government by discussion. It is desirable to go beyond disruption and put the government on the mat rather than walking out, running to the well of the house or boycotting the session. In the demonetisation issue, the opposition has an excellent opportunity to do this. The common man might applaud them if they discuss and debate in Parliament, the plight of the people.
The government, on its part, has succeeded in dividing the opposition to blunt its attack. There are visible cracks in the opposition unity in the past week or so. The JD(U) has distanced itself after the JD(U) President and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has supported the demonetisation. The BJD is keeping a wait and watch stance. The SP is not entirely involved. The RLD too is backing the move now.
Secondly, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley proposes to set up a panel of chief ministers to suggest ways to make progress to a cashless economy with Andhra Pradesh chief minister Chandrababu Naidu as its chairman.
The government feels it is on a strong wicket because of the support from the public despite the inconvenience. While the middle and lower middle-class people feel the cash crunch, the poor are happy that the rich are deprived of their illegal money overnight. The recent panchayat poll victory in Gujarat and Maharashtra had emboldened the government even to go ahead and bulldoze the taxation law second amendment bill, 2016 this week.
However, the logjam needs to be broken. The opposition holds that it is the responsibility of the government to run the house while the government expects constructive cooperation from the opposition ranks. For smooth functioning of the house, both sides need to initiate a debate on policy matters and enact legislation. The country cannot afford another washed out Parliament session.
(The writer is a political analyst. Views expressed are strictly personal.)