Parliament’s least productive session ends (Roundup)

Monday, December 13, 2010

NEW DELHI - Parliament was adjourned Monday sine die, ending an over month-long winter session that was the least productive ever with only seven of 138 hours of business being conducted due to a stalemate between the government and opposition over the 2G spectrum scandal.

No substantial legislative business could be transacted in the winter session that began Nov 9 because it was largely dominated by noisy opposition demands for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the 2008 telecom scam that is believed to have caused India huge financial losses.

The session had scheduled 138 hours of business in its 23 sittings. But parliament sat for only 7.3 hours, which means only 5.5 percent of the allotted time could be utilised, according to 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 in the two houses - the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha - started with slogan-shouting opposition lawmakers gathering near the presiding officers podium and chanting anti-government slogans to press for a JPC to investigate the scam that forced A. Raja to quit Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s cabinet.

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

Raja, the former IT and communications minister, is alleged to have sold spectrum licenses at rates much lower than the market causing huge financial losses to the national exchequer.

The paralysis in parliament has caused serious concerns with the government losing out on crucial time to pass some important legislations.

The winter session was scheduled to take up bills on land acquisition, judicial accountability, reforming accounting standards, amending labour laws and setting up a national mineral regulation authority. None of them has happened.

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

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

According to PRS Legislative Research, the session was the least productive in terms of business hours because it was washed out to protests. Parliament witnessed logjam for 17 days over Tehelka scam in 2001. There were similar protests for a JPC during the Bofors scandal in 1987.

But never in the history has Indian parliament witnessed such disruptions, says PRS data, released soon after the two houses were adjourned sine die.

Before adjourning the Rajya Sabha, Chairman Hamid Ansari expressed his displeasure and said the session displayed distinct features. No debates or discussions on public matters took place; no special mentions were made or laid on the table; no zero hour interventions were sought; no questions were answered orally and no supplementary questions were raised.”

Ansari urged members to introspect on the functioning of the house to seek the distinction between dissent, remonstration, agitation and disruption.

Asked for her reaction on the logjam, Speaker Meira Kumar told reporters outside the house: “I am anguished.

On Monday, there was however a brief unity among MPs cutting across party lines as they found common ground when they stood united against terrorism to remember those killed in the parliament terror attack 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.

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