The time has come for us to comment on the way Parliament manages its time. Now, the way things have been proceeding, it does not look good. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seems to be equally distressed. He has asked the presiding officers of both the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha to convene an all-party meeting to deal with the issue of better time management during parliamentary proceedings. Will this meeting be a waste of time? Let’s have a look at the just-concluded Budget session to get an objective picture. A startling 43.18 per cent of the Rajya Sabha’s precious time was lost, thanks to repeated disruptions and adjournments. The report card of the Lok Sabha is only marginally better: 34.59 per cent of time was wasted.
Just to give continuity to this story of parliamentary time wastage, the House was adjourned — five days ahead of schedule — with no appointed date for resumption on Friday as disorder ruled the roost. Crucial debates could not be held thanks to constant interruptions and adjournments. Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee pointed out that 32 sittings spread over 119 hours were held during the Budget session, adding that over 73 hours of this time were “lost” due to adjournments and interruptions. He could have been more specific and stated that this time was ‘stolen’. In case anybody’s worried about the quality of parliamentary democracy in this country, let us just dolefully remind you that the Union Budget — clearly an important piece of legislative business, if not the most important — was passed last month without a debate. So what were the earth-shattering issues that resulted in the flurry of disruptions? The matter of extradition of an Italian businessman whose alleged role in an artillery gun deal continues to be the stuff of urban legend for the opposition. Then we have the matter of land acquisition for development. And, how shall we put this with a straight face — the matter of a canal project off the coast of Tamil Nadu that will, according to the main opposition party — no, not the CPI(M) — hurt the sensibilities of Hindus as it could damage the “ancient bridge” built by Lord Rama.
Could not all of these issues — yes, even the last one — have been debated where they were supposed to be, in a structured manner: inside Parliament? The problem could be that of the mindset of many parliamentarians who seem to be unable to give up the charms of ‘halla-bol’ tactics. Kindergarten teachers on a bad day don’t envy what goes on in the hallowed seat of our fabled democracy.