…So passes it without debate
Prasanna Mohanty | March 22, 2013
In 2011, parliamentarians bristled with anger when Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal suggested that parliament should immediately take up the Lokpal bill for debate and passage. Cutting across party lines, parliamentarians branded Hazare and Kejriwal undemocratic and gave long lectures on the “supremacy” of parliament and “sanctity” of parliamentary procedures just because a parliamentary committee was examining the bill at the moment. (Never mind countless parliamentary committees that have examined the same bill for more than 40 years.)
That self-righteousness stood exposed on Thursday when Rajya Sabha returned the general budget and its appropriation bill to Lok Sabha without a debate.
Frequent disruptions and adjournments are quite the norm over the last few years. But even by that standard, Rajya Sabha has scripted a dubious history by giving a go-ahead to the budget and the appropriation bill without so much as a second glance.
Going by the records, Rajya Sabha began discussing the general budget on March 18, when BJP leader Venkaiah Naidu started it but could not go far due to disruptions. And since then, disruptions over the Sri Lanka issue have prevented the house from taking up the budget again.
Naidu was to resume his speech on the afternoon of March 21 (Thursday). There was no disruption then but the house decided not to go further because of “paucity of time”. After all, the first half of the split session was coming to an end the very next day (March 22) and a debate would have meant encroachment into the private members’ business on March 22, a Friday. Legislators are known to take afternoon flights to their homes on Fridays.
So the members were asked to table their written speeches, which would be taken as read, and the finance minister assured that he would reply to them individually in due course.
If that is indeed how the budget is to be treated, there is little justification for the house to meet in the first place. The members can hear the budget on their TV sets and email their responses to the government.
It is quite another matter that the budget session hasn’t ended yet. After a brief recess it will meet again. Demands for grants and appropriation bills etc are to be passed after the department-related standing committees have examined them during the recess. Though this is yet to happen, both houses have already passed the budget and the appropriation bills — the Lok Sabha had passed the appropriation bill earlier.
So much for the sanctity of parliamentary procedures!
How would it have mattered had the budget and the appropriation bills been taken up in the second half of the budget session?
It is now clear that what happened in Rajya Sabha on Thursday follows a clear trend. Governance Now had pointed out in its September 16-30, 2011 issue how legislative work is getting little attention, important bills are being passed without any debate and scant respect is shown to the views of various parliamentary committees (see attachment).
We have also witnessed a fall in the number of days for which parliament is meeting or taking up legislative business (read PRS Legislative Service’s study). The state assemblies are not doing any better either.
Surely, these are disturbing trends that need to be reversed. But when the legislators seem more interested in perpetuating the trend who will take the corrective measures?
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