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4 August, 2019 11:24:02 AM

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Government on a roll

All in all it has been a grand opening for Modi government in the parliament
Kumkum Chadha
Government on a roll

When Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien tweeted about the haste in passing legislation in the Indian Parliament he touched a chord. More so because he compared the on-going exercise to delivering pizzas.

“Are we delivering pizzas or passing legislation” the TMC MP sought to know even as he sharpened his attack on the government ‘s haste over passing the bills in the on-going session of Parliament: the first after the Narendra Modi government was voted in with a thumping majority, bettering its last record.  That the 300 plus tally surprised many within the BJP itself, is a given. Therefore it is but natural that the Government intends to cash in on this seat-bonanza and make the most of it by pushing through legislation resulting in  angry reactions from the Opposition benches.
Taking on the government, O’Brien said the way the bills were being passed amounted to a "mockery of Parliament" and was the government's way of "smothering" the Opposition, adding that the function of the Parliament is to   “scrutinize” rather than “bulldoze” Bills: “This is not a T-20 match” he is reported to have said.
O’Brien did not stop here. He went further to flag statistics to contrast the functioning of Parliament in the past.   During 2004-2009, 60 per cent of the total bills by Parliament were scrutinised, during 2009-2014, this went up to 71 per cent, from 2014-2019 the number came down to 26 per cent. In the present Lok Sabha, of the 18 bills passed, only one underwent scrutiny, bringing the number down to 5 per cent, he claimed. O'Brien is among  Mamata Banerjee's trusted party leaders.

"Parliament is supposed to scrutinize Bills. This chart explains the bulldozing this Session. Are we delivering pizzas or passing legislation?" he tweeted earlier this week.

"Three days, three bills. It's like delivering pizza," he reiterated.

His  anger on the Government pushing legislation is valid. And he is not alone in this. There is a concern over the hurried legislations, giving a go-by to Opposition demands to re-examine the bills and refer some to a select committee given that standing committees are not yet in place. The Opposition has slammed the government over what it calls the  "hurried" passage of bills in the ongoing parliament session.

There are genuine concerns  over decreasing parliamentary scrutiny of the law-making process. The Opposition is crying hoarse that the practice of referring Bills to Standing Committees for detailed examination is being given a go-by. There is criticism of the Government’s unwillingness   to have the Bills examined by Select Committees  dubbing BJP’s antics as “tyranny of the majority”.

Constitutional experts say that scrutiny of Bills by Parliamentary Committees is essential since they are normally drafted by government-appointed experts who may not always be able to appreciate the finer points or perhaps wilfully ignore  all the implications of a new law to suit the government of the day. There have been instances in the past where Bills sent to  Committees have improved after scrutiny.

The government, however, is seeking refuge in the fact that   the process of forming 24 Departmental Related Standing Committees (DRSCs) is not complete since all parties are yet to nominate members. This does not cut ice because the Billscould well have been referred to Select Committees in the absence of the Standing Committees.   The Budget session of Parliament has seen both Houses running smoothly and putting in extra hours to transact legislative business. Given that a large number of MPs are first termers there is visible enthusiasm among the new MPs to attend the Lok Sabha and participate in proceedings.

The ruling party has enough reason to cheer as both the Houses are going full-steam ahead and the session is likely to go down as being the most productive session in recent memory.

The governmentt is clearly on a roll. There are several reasons for its stellar performance the most important being that the 300+ majority of the Modi government in the 543-member Lok Sabha gives it both strength and ammunition push forward its legislative business with facility and ease. Ofcourse there is a compulsion on the part of the government to replace 10 ordinances issued after the end of the last session of the 16th Lok Sabha with regular laws. Add to that the fact that there is an urgency to take forward additional  Bills that had lapsed with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha.

The intention of the Modi government to be both effective and active in passing laws was made clear by none other than the Prime Minister when he said  that many Bills had lapsed last time since the Upper House did not pass them. He also pointed out that the majority has got the mandate to rule and minority the mandate to oppose, but nobody has got the mandate to obstruct.

The Opposition was  found wanting in playing an effective role. Parties like the TRS, JD(U) and BJD either supported the amendments brought in by the Government or walked out of the House, facilitating the passage of the Bills.

During its last tenure the BJP was short of numbers in the Rajya Sabha and hence dependent on Opposition support. While numbers still allude it, they are on the rise now and the BJP is in a much better position and surer footing.

A case in point is the instant triple talaq bill which on two previous occasions had failed to get passed in the Rajya Sabha. But this time around it became law.

Its passage  in the Upper House was aided by a series of walkouts and abstentions. The bill, sought to end the practice of Muslim men instantly divorcing their wives by uttering "talaq" thrice. Several parties that opposed it - including Nitish Kumar's Janata Dal (United), AIADMK and K Chandrashekar Rao's Telangana Rashtra Samithi - ended up aiding the bill's passage.

While the AIADMK and Nitish Kumar's party walked out, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi and Mehbooba Mufti's PDP stayed away from voting, bringing down the majority mark. A number of opposition lawmakers abstained from voting.

Rajya Sabha also passed the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill or the UAPA Bill after hours of debate. Ahead of the voting, Home Minister Amit Shah attacked Congress for failing to act against terrorism during its reign. The UAPA Bill, which empowers the government to designate individuals as terrorists, was taken up by the Rajya Sabha for discussion just a week after it was passed by the Lok Sabha.

The first session of 17th Lok Sabha has seen more than two dozen bills introduced by the government in the house, of which, most of them have passed.

Many have rated this to be “the best performance by any government in the opening and budget sessions in the last 15 years”. According to available data, by July 26, Modi Government pushed record 30 bills in Lok Sabha. Out of these, 20 have been passed by the house, while both houses passed a total of 14 bills.  As against this, the 14th Lok Sabha in 2004 to the 16th Lok Sabha in 2014, first session had no legislative business. In the budget session of 2004, between July 5 and August 26, only six bills were passed.

In budget session of 15th Lok Sabha, between July 2 and August 7, only eight bills were passed. And, in budget session of 16th Lok Sabha, between July 7 and August 14, 12 bills were passed. With an extended session, more bills are likely to be pushed through by August 7. All in all it has been a  grand opening” for Modi 2.0 Government in the Parliament and it has enough reason to smile ear to ear.

The writer is a senior Indian journalist, political commentator and columnist of The Independent. She can be reached at: (kumkum91@gmail.com)

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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