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The truants in Parliament

delhi Updated: Sep 09, 2013 02:15 IST
Zia Haq

The monsoon session of Parliament, which concluded on Saturday, was the most productive summer session during the current government’s term, barring one, going by the time utilised for conducting business versus sittings lost to bickering. Yet, as has been the case with previous sessions, it wasn’t free from pandemonium.

The current Lok Sabha, or the Lower House, which assumed office in 2009, has passed fewer bills and worked the least on legislative matters compared to any of the 14 previous Houses elected since India’s independence. Political gridlock had kept the UPA from passing key bills for much of its tenure, paralysing its legislating powers.

This monsoon session surprisingly saw the UPA claw back, with the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha clocking 58% and 80% productivity, analysis by PRS Legislative Research, a think tank, showed. The government managed to pass 12 of its biggest bills.

The current session had started on a stormy note, with disruptions over issues such as the decision to grant Telengana statehood, missing files of the coal department and border skirmishes with Pakistan and China. There were frequent adjournments too.

Acrimonious scenes had prompted Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari to dub the Upper House a “federation of anarchists”, a comment he later withdrew.

The government was ultimately able to push a host of electorally important bills by a combination of factors, including extending Parliament by five days for Lok Sabha and six for the Rajya Sabha as well as sharper floor management. Since some of the bills were populist ones, such as the food bill, the opposition did not want to be seen as holding them up indefinitely.

“The monsoon session saw both Houses face frequent disruptions. Yet, this time the government was successful in building a consensus on key legislations and getting them passed. Both Houses worked late into the night to discuss key bills,” said Shreya Singh of PRS Legislative Research.

Compared to 58% productivity in this monsoon session, the corresponding session in 2012 could work for just 20% of its scheduled time. For 2011, the figure was 67%. The previous year, which saw the first monsoon session for the current government, productivity was 94%, the highest for this tenure.

The question hour was very disruptive and was only the third worst.

A parliamentary session typically conducts three types of businesses. The first hour of every sitting, called the question hour, is for asking and answering questions.

The time immediately following this is termed “zero hour”, called thus because it starts around noon and during which members, after serving prior notice to the Speaker, raise key topical issues. Bills are usually taken up in the late afternoons.