Fate of the monsoon session of Parliament

Kalyani Shankar

The last Monsoon session of the current Parliament is scheduled to begin from July 18 and last till August 10. Already there are speculations that this too will be a wash out session as in the past as the Parliament has not been functioning, as it should in the past two decades and more.  For instance, this year’s budget session was the least productive since 2000 according to the PRS Legislative research, a Delhi-based think tank. The entire annual budget of over 24 lakh cores was guillotined and even the Finance Bill 2018 was passed without discussion. The Speaker did not allow the opposition sponsored No-Confidence motion against the Modi government citing disruptions in the house. Incidentally, itcosts about Rs. 2.5 lakh per minute to conduct a Parliament session, which makes the loss incurred for every wasted hour Rs 1.5 crore.
What is the role of the MPs? They are law making, overseeing the functioning of the government of India, scrutinize and pass the budget and represent the concern of their constituents in Parliament, as well as electing the president and vice president of India. An opposition is not meant to just oppose every move of the government but focus on issues, question the government of the day and hold them accountable. The government, on its part, is answerable to the people. Unfortunately, while on the one hand the opposition parties indulge in protests, dharnas, slogan shouting and fist fights, the treasury benches are not reaching out to the opposition. The Telugu Desam is already planning for disruption on special status to Andhra Pradesh.
Are the MPs doing their duties? According to official statistics, Lok Sabha spent just eight hours to review budgetary allocation of Rs 77,000 crores in 2018 as compared to 8.3 hours in 2017 and 6.4 hours in 2016. It is regrettable that the number of annual sittings has been reduced from 125-140 days in the fifties and sixties to almost half the number in the past two decades. 
In such a scenario, it is not a surprise that the ensuing Monsoon session is expected to be a washout. First of all, Parliament functioning is gradually depending on the Assembly polls, scheduled before or after the session. With the year-end Assembly polls to the three BJP ruled States- Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh and the Congress ruled Mizoram, the BJP and the Congress are getting poll ready.  It is crucial for the BJP to retain its states and for the Congress to snatch it from the BJP, as it will give a moral boost ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha to whoever wins the poll. Therefore in all likelihood neither the ruling BJP nor the main opposition Congress have any intention of cooperating in Parliament.  
Secondly, political parties seem to be more concerned about their political slugfest rather than discussing and debating the burning issues like unemployment, agrarian crisis, and growing mob lynching incidents, the Jammu and Kashmir problem.
Thirdly, the opposition and the treasury benches are not making any effort to ensure smooth functioning of Parliament. After all, it is for the government to ensure the government business is transacted in a smooth manner and the opposition to give constructive cooperation. As of now, neither is interested in this.
Fourthly, there are efforts for opposition unity to take on Modi. The grand show of strength at the swearing in ceremony of Karnataka chief minister H D Kumaraswamy recently is an indication in this regard. Since then there have been moves to take it forward. The Monsoon session will show whether opposition will be united on the floor of the house.
Fifthly, the ensuing elections for the Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha will be keenly fought. The BJP might concede the post to its ally Shiromani Akali Dal, while the Opposition is keen on a consensus opposition candidate. Trinamool Congress wants its candidate Sukhendu Shekhar Roy for the post. If elected, it will be the first constitutional position the TMC will occupy in Parliament. The Congress party is in a mood support a larger opposition candidate. At the time of Presidential and Vice Presidential elections last year, Sonia Gandhi organized a meeting in which 20 opposition parties participated. This time too, this issue will be decided at a meeting to be held on July 16 and 17. It is not clear where the BJD (9), YSRCP (2) and TRS (6) hold the key.
Meanwhile what happens to the business in Parliament? According to Minister of State for Parliamentary affairs Vijay Goel,68 bills are pending in the Lok Sabha and 40 in the Rajya Sabha including the Muslim Marriage (Protection of Marriage Rights) Bill, 2017, the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2017, the Constitution (123rd Amendment) Bill, 2017 and the Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill, 2013. Also six important ordinances await the Parliament nod including The Fugitive Economic Offenders Ordinance, 2018, the Criminal Law (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018and the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Ordinance, 2018, and the National Sports University Ordinance, 2018. While Goel proposes to meet the opposition leaders and has begun with former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, it is not clear how much he can succeed. It all depends on the leaders of the political parties. They can still do it if they decide that Parliament functioning is more important than their political slugfest but will they? In short, Parliament needs to find its voice.  (IPA)

Monday, 16 July, 2018