The acrimonious winter session of Parliament ended on Wednesday, leaving the fate of key economic reforms including the GST bill hanging in the balance.
The government managed to get eight bills passed in Rajya Sabha where disruptions drowned out almost half the working time. The unruly protests even forced chairman Hamid Ansari to tell MPs to introspect and desist from “demeaning the stature” of the House.
Even on the last day, the Lok Sabha saw Opposition-led disruptions over the VHP’s alleged plans to collect stones for a Ram temple’s construction in Ayodhya. Parliamentary affairs minister Venkaiah Naidu, however, said later, “All countrymen want a Ram mandir in Ayodhya. How, when and what is the question.”
The session began on November 26, but barring the first two days when a special discussion took place on Babasaheb Ambedkar and the Constitution, both Houses saw disruptions almost every day over issues ranging from minister VK Singh’s alleged remarks against Dalit children to the government’s “vindictive attitude” and the DDCA controversy.
Crippled by disruptions in the winter session, the Rajya Sabha posted its fifth-lowest performance ever. On Wednesday, Ansari said in his valedictory speech that interruptions were “sought to be justified by specious logic by different sections of the House at different times to suit their tactics of the moment”. Naidu lashed out at the Congress, saying its use of numbers in the Rajya Sabha to paralyse functioning amounted to “cheating the people”.
“This session has been a victim of a strategy which was to see that Parliament was paralysed, come what may,” Naidu alleged.
The Congress’s Ghulam Nabi Azad shot back: “Till BJP does not give up its approach of ‘it’s my way or the highway’, it will be difficult to run Parliament smoothly.” Pointing out how the BJP had forced Congress ministers to resign, Azad added: “They asked for the resignation of our home minister because he had changed clothes thrice a day. If we talk about our present Prime Minister and the change of his dresses, he will have to resign 10 times a day.”
While the Congress refused to back the 122nd Constitution Amendment Bill on the goods and services tax, the ambitious tax reform measure is set to miss its rollout deadline of April 1 next year.
During the session, Prime Minister Narendra Modi held his first ever meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi but that initiative also failed to hammer out a consensus on the GST bill. Parliament, however, passed amendments to the Juvenile Justice Bill to allow 16-year-olds to be tried as adults for heinous crimes and a host of other bills. But the legislative agenda of economic reforms continues to face an uncertain future.
Chaksu Ray, an analyst with PRS Legislative Research, said, “It was a 20-day session but everything virtually happened on the last three days.”
In the last 48 hours, the upper House passed four bills without discussion, improving its tally to eight. The lower House passed 14 bills during the session. The Opposition also forced some bills, including the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code, 2015, to be sent for further parliamentary review.