Unmet targets, wasted hours as another parliament session ends

By Sarwar Kashani, IANS,

New Delhi : The 2011-12 budget session ends Friday, less acrimonious than the previous winter sitting but still far from meeting its legislative goals, with only three of 34 legislations passed and the government’s proposed expenditure of Rs.12.58 lakh crore ($280 billion) not even scrutinised by MPs.

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The session that started Feb 21 saw animated debates and raucous scenes over allegations of corruption against the government on the 2G spectrum allotment to mobile operators, Devas-ISRO deal and the WikiLeaks cables but at the cost of the ever increasing list of pending legislations.

PRS Legislative Research, a Delhi-based research initiative, described the legislative performance of the budget session as dismal.

In addition to the finance bill, the legislations passed during the session include a bill to make a minor correction – rectifying a clerical error – in the transfer of foreign prisoners act. The phrase “martial law” was replaced with “military law” in the act.

Other bills passed include the merger of the State Bank of Indore with State Bank of India and one to extend the moratorium on sealing of unauthorised buildings in Delhi.

The government had also planned to introduce 37 bills in the session, including the controversial woman’s reservation bill, the bill suggesting comprehensive measures against communal violence and the land acquisition amendment bill. Only a few could be introduced, amongst them the pension regulatory authority bill.

In the economic segment, the government had proposed to introduce a constitutional amendment bill to pave the way for introduction of the long-awaited Goods and Services Tax (GST) regime.

But none of them were introduced because the session had to be curtailed due to upcoming assembly elections in five states.

PRS research head R. Madhavan said parliament has “drawn almost blank” on the legislative front in this session.

“The session was to be focussed on the government spending (during 2011-12),” Madhavan told IANS. The four major functions of parliament, in his view, were law making, scrutinising the budget and government spending, broad oversight of the government and MPs representing the needs of their constituencies.

“Two major functions have not been done. Neither was the budget scrutinised nor were significant and pending bills passed. They (MPs) have not fulfilled their core mandate (during the session),” he said.

Madhavan said curtailing the session and doing away with recess – the time when parliamentary standing committees study ministry-specific demands for grants – for assembly elections was “no reason”.

It is only after consideration of the standing committees that these demands for grants were earlier brought before both the houses, discussed and then passed. Deliberations in the standing committees are more important because discussing all demands for grants on the floor of the houses is not possible.

But this year, the government passed the budget without discussion on specific demands and without standing committees scrutinising the spending.

“Simply, parliamentary oversight of the government spending has not been done as it ought to be, Nearly 80 percent of the proposed budget, (some Rs.10 lakh crore) of tax payers’ money would be spent unscrutinised,” Madhavan said.

The finance bill was passed Tuesday without the opposition, which walked out following protests over allegations made public by WikiLeaks that the government had bought MPs to win the 2008 trust vote.

In terms of time, as compared to the last winter session, which was least productive, the budget session performed better. The Lok Sabha sat for nearly 106 hours out of the planned 126 hours till the penultimate day of the session. The Rajya Sabha sat for some 74 hours out of the planned 105 sitting hours.

But much of the productive time of the budget session was spent on discussing issues like 2G spectrum scam, Devas Antrix deal and WikiLeaks cables undermining the very institutional ability of parliament.

(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at [email protected])