Parliament achieves a first, most fruitful inaugural session since Independence
The budget session of Parliament ended on a high note in Lok Sabha on Wednesday, scripting history for scrapping Article 370, enacting laws to bifurcate Jammu &Kashmir into two union territories, and clearing the landmark bill on Triple Talaq, in what turned out to be the most productive inaugural session of a new Lok Sabha since Independence.
All told, 30 bills, including the financial legislations that are part of the budget, were cleared by both Houses, the highest in any session in the past decade. It also saw 96% or 241 out of 265 firstterm MPs participating in various debates. This included 70 out of 78 women MPs.
The Lower House sat for more than 280 hours and cleared 36 bills, setting a new benchmark. Details on the Rajya Sabha’s performance weren’t immediately available. To be sure, some of this was expected. The Bharatiya Janata Party has 303 members in the 543 member Lok Sabha and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) of which it is a part has 358 members.
However, the party and the alliance are still in a minority in the Rajya Sabha and it was expected that the government wouldn’t entirely be able to have its way in the upper House. Things turned out differently, with the BJP being able to engineer resignations in some parties, and convincing others to either vote for it or abstain. Its performance was aided by a dysfunctional Congress, still the largest Opposition party in both Houses. The government’s legislation blitz was criticised by Opposition parties who said it was bypassing the standard practice of sending key bills for parliamentary scrutiny.
The impressive record of legislative business clearly shows that the Narendra Modi government has been able to put behind the era of disruptions, at least for now. In its first term, an aggressive Congress in the Lok Sabha and an united Opposition in the Rajya Sabha scotched some of its legislative efforts. The Congress had just 44 members in the last Lok Sabha but was still able to successfully disrupt business.
This time, the government has had its way in both Houses with the fabled unity of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha missing altogether. The appointment of Om Birla as the Speaker of the Lok Sabha also seems to have helped. Birla has so far been able to deftly handle protests and possibilities of disruptions in the House. The Speaker even earned praise from Opposition quarters for “not favouring” the treasury benches and giving time to MPs, irrespective of party affiliations, to speak in the House.
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The result: Out of 265 first-time MPs, 229 were allowed to speak in the Zero Hour, including 42 of the 46 women MPs—the highest for any inaugural session. In his valedictory speech, Birla also added that in terms of passage of bills and utilization of time, this session was the best inaugural session ever. The House lost no time to disruptions—a stark contrast from the winter session of 2016, when the House wasted 85% of its allotted time according to data from researcher PRS.
Birla gave more time for proceedings and he himself sat through them. For 30 out of 33 days of the session, the House sat beyond 6 PM—its scheduled closing time—to clear business. One day, it even worked till 11.59 pm to complete the discussion on the rail budget. While these added hours have helped the government push its long list of legislative business, the Opposition too, got ample time to speak in the House: 1066 Special Mentions and 488 issues under rule 377 were taken up. The first session of the 17th Lok Sabha also restored the importance of Question Hour— the one hour period where ministers reply to questions posed by MPs; 35 statements came from ministers, adding to their accountability. Altogether 183 questions were answered in the House, taking the average to 7.6 questions per day. According to PRS Legislative Research, 36% of questions were answered orally in Lok Sabha; the highest in the last 20 years.