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THE PRACTICE of catching an afternoon flight home every Friday by Members of Parliament became the bone of contention between the Opposition and the treasury benches on Friday morning, as Rajya Sabha saw an exchange of words between Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad and Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi.
Azad accused the government of surreptitiously passing Bills in the absence of MPs. Naqvi shot back saying that treasury MPs were present, and that the government cannot be held answerable for opposition MPs.
The immediate cause for contention was the listing of Factories (Amendment) Bill, 2016 for consideration, and its passing, after private members’ business. Friday afternoons are reserved for private members’ business, and the convention has been to adjourn the House afterwards for the weekend – this Friday, the House was adjourned for four days, with an extra holiday on Monday on the eve of Ramnavami, which is a gazetted holiday.
That convention is a reason why Friday afternoons see thin attendance across benches, and only members who have listed business are usually present.
Moving away from the convention, the government, which is in a minority in Rajya Sabha, took advantage of the depleted Opposition benches a few weeks ago and pushed through the Enemy Property Bill in the House on a Friday afternoon. The Opposition has not taken kindly to this.
Pointing this out, Azad said: “When the Enemy Property Bill came up in the business advisory committee (BAC), we made it clear, and it was unanimously decided, and the government was on board…. The decision was that all political parties will sit together and come to a consensus and it will be discussed only then. The question was of consensus… (but) on Friday, when there was hardly any presence of MPs, this Bill was brought up and passed.”
That, he said, was totally against the spirit of the decision, as there could not possibly have been any consensus when there were no opposition MPs present. “Now the government has chosen this route to bring any Bill on Friday, when Opposition members are not there,” he said.
The Congress leader also sought a decision to ensure that no Bill will be passed on Fridays – “whether private members’ business finishes at 3 o’clock or 4 o’clock. You can adjourn the House for the next day, but there should not be any Bill whatsoever taken up on Fridays.”
Naqvi said that it is perfectly legitimate for the chair to take up listed legislation, for which BAC has allotted time on a Friday afternoon if private members’ business collapses. While Azad threatened privilege citing assurance given in BAC, deputy chairman P J Kurien said that for the chair the only assurance that matters is that given on floor of the House.
As the debate got more heated on whether there is consensus in the House on the issue, Naqvi said, “Consensus among the Opposition parties is not our responsibility. Consensus in the ruling party is our responsibility.”
The matter was raised by Trinamool Congress’s Derek O’Brien as a point of order. Soon after House proceedings started, and following a flurry of birthday wishes for Kurien, O’Brien said, “When the Enemy Property Bill also came up on a Friday afternoon, it was our earnest request to the government not to put it in the list of business. We discuss something inside in a good spirit…when business for the afternoon collapses, they take this up. Then you will tell us that we did not inform you in the morning itself. Just give us assurance that this Bill will not be taken up today.”