A much-eclipsed Winter Session concludes a year of setbacks for Parliament
The Winter Session of Parliament that just concluded is likely to be soon forgotten as a mundane event. That is just the reason why it ought to be highlighted what the significance of the session was.
First, the government delayed calling the session itself as it would have come in the way of the Assembly polls in Gujarat. Winter sessions are usually convened in the middle or towards the end of November and last for about a month.
In 2016, the session ran from 16 November to 16 December. In 2015, Parliament sat from 27 November to 23 December. In 2014, the sittings were from 25 November to 23 December. In contrast to all these sessions, winter session 2017 saw sittings only from 15 December to 5 January.
Second, the Gujarat polls themselves were delayed and it was quite obvious that the delay gave the BJP, in power in the state and at the Centre, more time to pursue the voters in Gujarat. So, the Winter Session was, essentially, sacrificed at the altar of BJP's fortunes in Gujarat.
Third, it was an unproductive session because of the reduction in the number of sittings and also because of needless controversies triggered by the BJP-led union government. Data compiled by PRS Legislative Research puts productivity of Lok Sabha at 78% and of Rajya Sabha at 54%, much lower than in previous years of the 16th Lok Sabha.
Winter Session 2016 was an exceptional session because of the crippling shadow of government's shocking move of demonetisation.
In 2015, the corresponding figures were 98% and 50% while in 2014, the figures were 98% and 58%.
In the Lok Sabha, Winter Session 2017 saw only 13 sittings that were spread over 61 hours and 48 minutes. Over 14 hours and 51 minutes were lost due to interruptions and forced adjournments, even as the House also sat late for 8 hours and 10 minutes.
Only 16 government bills were introduced and 12 were passed. These included -
– The Goods and Services Tax (Compensation to States) Amendment Bill, 2017
– The Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (Amendment) Bill, 2017
– The Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, 2017
– The High Court And The Supreme Court Judges (Salaries And Conditions Of Service) Amendment Bill, 2017
On an average, only about 3.46 questions were answered every day. The only saving grace was that about 198 matters of urgent public importance and 226 matters for short duration discussions (under Rule 377) were raised. One short duration discussion under rule 193 was also held on cyclone Ockhi.
A total of 98 Private Members’ Bills on different subjects were introduced.
The Rajya Sabha also had 13 sittings in which a mere nine government bills were passed and 19 private member bills were introduced. The Upper House lost a whopping 34 hours to disruptions, while a total of 41 hours of business was transacted.
The high-point was on 2 January, when the House created a record of taking all the listed starred questions for the first time in 15 years.
Chairman Venkaiah Naidu said that the high-point was when the dignity of the offices of the prime minister, former prime minister and other dignitaries was upheld. Naidu was referring to the apology tendered by the government to the Opposition for utterly condemnable thoughts expressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier.
Modi had, in the course of campaigning for his party in Gujarat, tried to portray former PM Manmohan Singh, former Vice President Hamid Ansari and many others as traitors who were conspiring with Pakistan to defeat the BJP in Gujarat.
In the Rajya Sabha during the session, Leader of the House and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley apologised to the dignitaries and said his government and his party held them in the highest regard. Naidu calling this moment the high-point of the session proved the nuisance value of PM Modi and his speeches. What Naidu didn't say was that Modi should have been held accountable for assaulting the dignity of the institution of the PM, former PM, former VP and others.
The debate over the Triple Talaq Bill got the Opposition riled up, but belatedly. The government successfully got the Bill cleared from the Lok Sabha amid hesitant objections from the Opposition. It was when the Bill reached the Rajya Sabha that the Opposition suddenly discovered flaws in it and stalled its passage.
The end of the session also brought the curtains down on one of the worst years for the Parliament ever. The government convened the Parliament for a total of only 57 sittings, which is the lowest tally in the entire history of the Parliament, ignoring only election years.
2018 will also see a heavy electoral agenda, with several state assembly polls lined up. This is also the penultimate year of the Modi-government's five-year tenure. Politics will certainly rule heavy and the future of Parliament in this year too doesn't appear too bright.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen