The winter session of Parliament has been less stormy than it was expected to be. The atmosphere that prevailed before the session started was no doubt surcharged. The Opposition, after its drubbing in the Lok Sabha elections, was subdued in the monsoon session and this time was expected to be aggressive. But the economic climate, particularly inflation, which is more favourable now than it was one year ago, and international factors, mostly those relating to West Asia and Pakistan, operated together to soften the Opposition’s sting.
From the economy point of view, the session has been fairly productive. It will be remembered most for the introduction of the constitutional amendment Bill that seeks to roll out the goods and services tax across the country. The tax subsumes a large number of central and state taxes and aims at creating a common market in India. The constitutional amendment will provide for a GST for states also. However, there is some bit of disappointment at petro products being left out of its ambit. Hopefully the tax will come into effect in 2016 as stated by the Union finance ministry.
The next success of the session is the amendment of the Companies Act, which seeks to ease the process by which company executives could get bail if arrested on charges of wrong-doing, and prescribes severe punishment for firms raising deposits from the public in an illegal manner.
Finally, the most talked-about item — the insurance Bill, which seeks to raise the level of FDI in the sector to 49% — was also introduced in Parliament and hopefully will be passed in the next session. The government has told Parliament the employment guarantee scheme (the MGNREGS) will not be diluted, even though the allocation for it has not gone up much over the past few years. So, in a sense it has already been diluted.
There were misses, however.
Not much discussion was devoted to the environment deal in Lima. This shows the gravity of the problem has not adequately sunk in among our lawmakers. Also absent was the plight of cotton farmers in Maharashtra. And Prime Minister Narendra Modi not giving a statement on the conversion issue, despite the Opposition asking for one, is an omission that can have insalubrious repercussions.