Parliament’s least productive session ends, no truce in sight (Intro Roundup)

Monday, December 13, 2010

NEW DELHI - Parliament was adjourned sine die Monday, ending the most unproductive month-long winter session that saw only seven of 138 hours of business conducted amid unending opposition protests over the 2G spectrum scandal and the government’s refusal to give in.

Calling the washout of winter session “criminal”, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Prawan Kumar Bansal warned of a constitutional crisis if the opposition stalled the February budget session too over its demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the spectrum controversy.

Both Rajya Sabha Chairman Hamid Ansari and Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar moaned the loss of vital parliament hours to noisy protests that crippled both houses day after day.

“I feel deeply anguished that the house has been disrupted for such a long time,” Meira Kumar said. “Personally it has been a sad experience for me.”

As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh listened, a distressed Ansari said: “All sections of the house would perhaps introspect on the record of this session to seek the distinction between dissent, remonstration, agitation and disruption.”

But it was clear at the end of it all that the government and the opposition were headed for a showdown, with neither side willing to relent on a deeply divisive issue.

No substantial legislative business could be transacted during the winter session that began Nov 9. The opposition insisted on a JPC to probe the 2008 telecom scam that is said to have caused huge financial losses to the national exchequer.

The session had scheduled 138 hours of business in 23 sittings. But parliament sat for only 7.3 hours, which means only a pathetic 5.5 percent of the allotted time was utilised, said the PRS Legislative Research.

“If we compare all sessions that sat for more than five working days along this metric, the current session has recorded the worst performance,” said PRS in its analysis.

Each day of the session began with slogan-shouting opposition lawmakers gathering near the presiding officers podium and chanting anti-government slogans to press for a JPC into a scam that forced A. Raja to quit Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet as the communication minister.

The chairs on each day would then adjourn the houses till the next morning as the government firmly rejected the opposition demand.

Raja is accused of selling spectrum licenses at rates much lower than the market.

The winter session was to take up bills on land acquisition, judicial accountability, reforming accounting standards, amending labour laws and setting up a national mineral regulation authority. Nothing happened.

The government did manage to get a parliament nod for crucial supplemental spending bills by voice vote, but without a debate.

The logjam led to a loss of Rs.7.8 crore a day to the national exchequer, which translates into Rs.1.3 crore per hour as each sitting is of six hours each day. That means nearly Rs.172 crore (Rs.1.72 billion) of the Indian tax payer’s money went down the drain.

On Monday, however, there was a brief show of unity among MPs as they stood united against terrorism to remember those killed in the parliament terror attack on this day nine years ago.

But as soon as Meira Kumar finished reading a message to pay tributes to the nine people killed Dec 13, 2001 terror attack amid a pin drop silence, noisy protests returned to haunt the house, ending the session with din that is likely to continue in the budget session in February — unless the stalemate is resolved.

“Never before in the history of Indian parliament has a complete session been washed out without transacting any business,” a furious Parliamentary Affairs Minister Bansal said.

“This is violative of all rules of business and ethics. It’s rather criminal. Even question hour and private members’ business have been made a casualty.”

Congress president Sonia Gandhi was in a combative mood even before the last day of the session began.

She praised Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his “wise leadership” and tore into the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Addressing Congress MPs here, Gandhi said: “The people of India will be entirely justified if they take a dim view of the manner in which the opposition, especially the principal opposition party, has disrupted every day of the session.”

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