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Bringing down the House

There have been fewer sittings of Parliament in each of the last three years, as compared to the 100 days minimum that was decided at the 13th Whips Conference in 2005, writes CV Madhukar.

india Updated: Oct 23, 2008 21:21 IST

The government has announced an ambitious legislative agenda with as many as 36 proposed Bills listed for the current Parliament session. The list includes significant Bills such as the Seeds Bill, the Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Bill, the Companies (Amendment) Bill, the Gram Nyayalayas Bill, and the Unorganised Sector Workers Social Security Bill.

It would be trivialising the importance of legislation and the institution of Parliament to look at them in purely numerical terms. But numbers do reflect an important story, and it would be useful to see the past record of proposed bills in recent sessions, and how many were actually passed.

In this year’s budget session, the government planned to pass 29 Bills (excluding finance Bills), but only managed to pass nine. In the previous two sessions — winter and monsoon, 2007 — the government managed to pass 83 per cent, and 64 per cent respectively, of the planned legislative agenda. In 2007, the Lok Sabha (LS) passed as many as 40 per cent of the Bills, with less than 20 minutes of debate on each. This was up from about 17 per cent in the previous two calendar years.

Besides the time lost due to interruptions, there are other important factors that have impacted legislative business in past sessions. There have been fewer sittings of Parliament in each of the last three years, as compared to the 100 days minimum that was decided at the 13th Whips Conference in 2005.

When Parliament convened for just 66 days last year, it clocked the lowest number of working days in several years, adjusting for election years. To make matters worse, the LS worked for about 281 hours of the originally planned 492 hours in 2007.

In addition to the above, there are some special reasons that will likely slow down legislative activity in this Parliament session. First, the so called cash-for-vote issue is yet to be resolved. Second, the current global financial crisis, inflation, the Sri Lankan Tamils issue, Kosi floods, Amarnath yatra, and recent terror attacks are likely to hog the limelight. Third, the government won the July trust vote with the help of outside support from some political parties and cross-voting by some MPs. Given that the latter may be disqualified from Parliament, the government’s majority in the LS is unclear. The government also does not have a clear majority in the Rajya Sabha. Thus the government would require the support of opposition parties on a case by case basis to pass these Bills.

The government has introduced 26 Bills in this session, and as the end of the 14th LS nears, it is naturally keen to accelerate the pace of work. It is hoped that this does not mean a sudden spike in the number of Bills passed with little or no debate.

Most observers opine that even the quality of deliberation in Parliament has been nothing to write home about in recent years. Earlier this year, Vice-President Hamid Ansari lamented about the time lost in Parliament: “About 5.28 per cent of working time was lost due to disruptions in the 11th LS. This rose to 10.66 per cent in the 12th LS and to 18.95 per cent in the 13th. In the current LS, 21 per cent of the time has been lost due to adjournments.” Even as we enter the last leg of legislative activity before the general elections, can we hope for something different from our Parliament?

C.V. Madhukar is Director, PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi.

First Published: Oct 23, 2008 21:16 IST