MonitorsPublished on Feb 22, 2013
The three-month-long budget session of the Indian Parliament, which began with the constitutionally mandatory address of President Pranab Mukherjee to a joint sitting of the two Houses on February 21, is both crucial and critical.
India: Challenges before Budget session

The three-month-long budget session of the Indian Parliament, which began with the constitutionally mandatory address of President Pranab Mukherjee to a joint sitting of the two Houses on February 21, is both crucial and critical. The President in his hour- long address presented the priorities of his Government and outlined the course that the Government proposes to chart out to meet the multiple challenges faced by country’s polity and economy.

The session is crucial because if the two Houses are able to conduct the business without losing precious time, then the country’s confidence in itself could improve. The nation at large and electorate in particular would keenly watch and follow the role of the political parties as how they conduct themselves during the session. Neither the Government, nor the Opposition, can afford to waste another session without conducting legislative business. As many as 39 Bills have been listed for consideration and passing. Another 25 are likely to be introduced.

The stage for a likely productive session was set by the government when Union Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde expressed his regret for his remarks on ’saffron terror’ made at Jaipur last month. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had threatened to disrupt the parliament if the Minister did not apologise. There are other issues also like VVIP copter deal scam, the hanging of the mastermind of the terrorist attack on Parliament Afzal Guru and allegations of rape against Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairperson P J Kurien which have the potential of derailing the parliamentary business. But the political parties need to rise above narrow political goals and partisan considerations to help the nation achieve its real potential both in human as well as in economic terms.

The ’Sri Lankan ethnic issue’, and the Indian vote on the proposed US resolution at UNHRC, Geneva, is another issue, which the political parties from Tamil Nadu raised even on day one. The ’Telangana issue’ can also be expected to be flagged once again on the day of Budget presentation. The Budget itself will be a major issue for debate inside the two Houses, and outside.

Stalling Parliament

These issues, undoubtedly, need to be raised and debated, but stalling the parliamentary business is not the right approach as it hits at the very root of democracy. Debate, deliberation and discussions are important and both the ruling coalition as well as the opposition must realise the importance of it. And the Government should be ready to discuss every issue however discomforting or unsettling. The opposition at the same time should also not stand on its false prestige.

The nation cannot afford to lose sight of the fact that precious time was lost both in 2011 and 2012 as the two Houses failed to conduct legislative business as political parties forced adjournments often on non-issues or issues of limited consequences. In 2012, 36 per cent of the allocated time was wasted due to adamant and non-cooperative spirit of the political parties on government and opposition sides.

While every political party is keen to have stricter laws to curb violence against women and the government has also issued an ordinance based on the recommendations of Justice J S Verma Committee, whether the ordinance would get parliamentary approval seems to be doubtful in the light of the dissenting voices of some leaders who are of the view that such an important legislation should not be rushed through.

The list of legislative business is long. The Land and Acquisition, Food Security, the Lokpal and Lokayukta, the Women’s Reservation, Pension, Insurance Bills, apart from the Finance Bill and the Railway budget, require the serious attention of the Members. If some of these Bills could be debated, considered and approved by the two Houses, then a positive signal would go out to investors that the political class is serious about country’s economy and welfare of the people.

Another very significant Constitutional Amendment Bill to give effect to the provisions of the Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh is slated to come for consideration in this session. If political consensus among the political parties could be evolved for adopting the constitutional amendment, then a very positive message would go out to country’s neighbours. Both Land Boundary Agreement and Teesta Water Agreement are crucial to country’s relations with Bangladesh.

Citizens at large and civil society in particular are monitoring the political class and failure of parliamentarians to pass Lokpal and Lokayukta and the Whistleblowers’ Protection Bills would only add to the growing cynicism and feeling of alienation among the people with the democratic polity.

Welfare and wellbeing of the people, ostensibly the avowed objectives of every political outfit, cannot be ensured by empty promises and solemn platitudes, but by concrete actions that facilitate creation of national wealth which alone can pave the way for people-friendly policies. If coffers of the Government were to remain empty or quarter or half filled, then poor and needy would suffer the most. Bringing in place the legal framework for the implementation of policies is the sole responsibility of parliament and therefore it is the bounden duty of every political party to ensure the successful completion of legislative business.

’Bharath Bandh’

The two-day ’Bharat Bandh’, held on the eve of the Budget session by 11 central trade unions, indicates that bitter political battles lie ahead. Irrespective of the huge loss that these strikes cost to the nation and society, trade unions, which are officially allied to political parties, continue to resort to the weapon of strike to share the political support of the vast labour force of the country.

It is equally true that impending assembly elections this year and the general elections next year, if not this year itself, would play a role in determining the political behaviour and position of political parties towards different issues in parliament. However, the fact is that it is not the time to play politics but to work for creating a conducive environment for social and economic progress.

(The writer is a Senior Fellow at Observer Research Foundation)

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