The tone and tenor of the interjections of our parliamentarians to the presentation of the Union Budget last Friday doesn’t augur well at all for the quality of Budget discussions. Neither does the reaction of the leader of the main Opposition party, who notably described the Budget as “communal” in nature. Sadly, that has been the experience of past Budget sessions as well when more time was lost in boisterous interruptions than discussing budgetary proposals. Four years ago, the NDA took a decision to boycott all standing and consultative committees of Parliament. The result? The new UPA government’s expenditure proposals were put to vote without discussion. In other words, they were guillotined as the allotted time for discussion had lapsed. Such a state of affairs happened in 2002 as well when the Congress was in the opposition. This sort of behaviour does not behove a responsible opposition party. In a democracy, there is a warrant for rightful oppositional behaviour as legislators can debate and dissent against the policies of the government. But the proper platform for this is the floor of Parliament.
Will matters be any different this Budget session? We fervently hope that the NDA avoids boycotting vital institutions of Parliament like the standing committees. Standing and select committees have a vital role to play in scrutinising the demands for grants, besides controversial legislation. It should remember that when the NDA was in power, important reform measures like opening up the insurance sector were referred to a standing committee. Eventually when the Insurance Bill was passed, it had the stamp of bi-partisan support. Despite fears that second-generation reforms were being unduly delayed, the various parliamentary standing committees, in fact, ensured a consensus to ensure their passage.
The Budget certainly merits serious discussion. An alert opposition can debate any possible discrepancies between what the Finance Minister stated in his speech and crucial documents like the Finance Bill. The massive waiver of farm loans and how it will be financed, for instance, warrants more attention than the sort of fish-market behaviour displayed during the Budget speech. To be sure, the UPA has the necessary numbers needed to carry on its legislative business — such as passing the Finance Bill — even if the BJP chooses to boycott this time round. But conducting this legislative business without the opposition erodes the credibility of this exercise altogether. A constructive opposition can and must play a useful role in critically examining, debating and modifying the various demands for grants before they are passed. Is the BJP listening?