Winston Churchill once remarked that ‘the object of Parliament is to substitute arguments for fisticuffs.’ The past three weeks of the monsoon session of Parliament made it amply clear that some of our MPs prefer obstruction to reasoned argument.
As an MP who spent most of my summer break sitting through the many meetings of the select committees of the Goods and Service Tax and Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bills, this Parliament shutdown has been deeply frustrating. The total shutdown of Parliament by the Congress and its consequent impact on the passage of key Bills is really another nail in the coffin, for a political party that has already lost its credibility and relevance.
While the mainstream media has highlighted the cost of the ensuing Parliament logjam to the exchequer — with estimates ranging from `50 crore to Rs 100 crore — the bigger headline is the impact and costs of this to the economy, and, therefore, to the lives of millions of hardworking citizens.
The implementation of Goods and Service Tax Bill 2014 (GST Bill), a potential game-changer for our economy, for one, has been completely jeopardised. The GST is the most significant indirect taxation reform since Independence. It is a transformative legislation that seeks to create one of the largest national common markets in the world. Experts suggest that the passage of the GST alone could push India’s GDP by 1-2%. India’s GDP in 2014 was $2,066.9 billion, so hypothetically, going by the 2014 figures and not considering the growth forecasts of the current fiscal year, in absolute numbers, a 1% GDP growth would mean a growth of $20.6 billion.
Obstructing the GST Bill does not have only political costs — the opportunity cost is not less than $20 billion in this fiscal alone and this calculation does not even consider the growth forecast of 7.6%. This is the real and chilling math caused by the politics of obstruction and disruption that needs to be highlighted and discussed. To put this opportunity cost loss in perspective — $20 billion or Rs 140,000 crore could purchase more than two million beds for our resource deficient public health sector.
There are also other far-reaching consequences to not passing key legislation at the right time. The GST, apart from being pro-consumer, also allows small and medium businesses to be more competitive. As Europe melts down and China pulls through a painful economic reset, there is considerable focus on India among foreign investors who are seeking an alternative investment destination. This window of opportunity is currently open and unfortunately the political risk perception caused by this kind of outrageous blocking of key legislation only serves to keep investors away.
Added to all this is the very real fear that the GST will not meet its April 1, 2016 deadline — unravelling nine full years of painful consensus building. This would mean a step back for the GST, which only further raises concerns among investors who are only beginning to flock to ‘Make in India’.
Another crucial sector that has taken a beating due to the logjam in Parliament is real estate. The Real Estate (Regulation and Development) Bill 2013 is a landmark legislation that would have revived the real estate sector by creating a legislative framework for the protection of the rights of the consumer. Despite the real estate sector being very well entrenched in this country, consumers have been fleeced and exploited by thousands of unscrupulous builders, with often results in arduous and expensive legal processes — the only recourse available to consumers.
Some other key legislation that entails high social costs includes the Road Safety Bill, and the Juvenile Justice Bill — both of which require detailed deliberations. A host of other crucially important issues that required debate were also victim to the logjam.
The terrorist attacks in Gurdaspur and Udhampur and, the farmer suicides in Karnataka are fitting examples. Other unresolved concerns regarding individual privacy arising out of the attempt by the government to ban pornographic websites, the deteriorating service quality of telecom companies and Internet neutrality also escaped scrutiny and debate.
These are all issues that directly impact the economy, the quality of lives of citizens, and the functioning of businesses. They should have been discussed, debated and highlighted. What we got instead, day after day, was a show of irresponsible and unaccountable conduct of the worst kind. The nation and indeed a majority of MPs have been held hostage to this tactical obstruction.
It is unfortunate that after a very promising start, and an extremely productive budget session — which saw Parliament at its 15-year best — this session has turned out in the manner that it has.
Post-August 13, there is no doubt, a need for the Congress, and to some measure the government, to introspect. There has to be a mutual agreement to abandon this kind of obstructionism and evolve a framework of communication that allows for legitimate opposition and consensus-building efforts on important issues that confront the nation and its people. There is no alternative to this, the country has to move forward and far beyond the politics that was displayed in this monsoon session.
(Rajeev Chandrasekhar is a Member of Parliament and technology entrepreneur. The views expressed are personal.)