Number crunching

Parliament has its task cut out when it meets this week

Written by The Indian Express | Published: February 10, 2009 2:21 am

Predicting a typical day in Parliament is not easy. The easy,and often lazy,option is to expect raucous shouting,well storming,and walk outs — a text-book performance of which was enacted during the debate over the nuclear deal. But parliamentarians have proved their ability to surprise,by holding everyone’s attention with well-articulated and structured debate,most recently in the post-26/11 debate on terror legislation. There’s a third way,when under the cloak of efficiency,Parliament passes a rash of legislation in a sprint — like the 17-minute passage of eight bills in the closing hours of the last session. As Parliament prepares to meet on February 12,in all probability for its last,short session before Lok Sabha elections are announced,how will it go?

Certainly,the “vote on account” will be passed. And political parties will strive to articulate their forthcoming campaign issues. But the legislative stakes are also very high. A total of 81 bills are pending at various stages of passage. Some,like the Private Detective Agencies (Regulation) Bill,are just a year old; others have been languishing for much longer. To sample just a few,the Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill aims at reforming the insurance industry,and will be subject to the charge of the Left brigade. The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Bill has been labelled by some critics as being “the government’s right to your education bill”,and merits serious debate. The Prevention of Money-Laundering (Amendment) Bill tightens the screws on terror funding. And given the credit crisis enveloping India,the Micro Financial Sector (Development and Regulation) Bill aims to free up loans to the poor.

These bills require Parliament to balance competing claims: detailed debate along with speedy legislation. But given looming political storms and the coming general election,MPs will be tempted to use the floor for political posturing and electoral manoeuvres. And the government will be tempted to bulldoze its way through an obdurate opposition. Both must desist from playing to the gallery and work together. But past precedent is not encouraging. It remains to be seen if the numbers add up in this “vote on accounts” session.

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