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Govt-Opposition keep up blame-game: 18 sittings in 24 days, session ends a day early

Beyond the numbers, the Opposition said the session showcased a bullying government that rammed through Bills, did not provide proper replies to questions, and a Prime Minister who did not bother to attend Parliament except for brief customary appearances on first and last days.

Written by Liz Mathew , Manoj C G | New Delhi |
Updated: December 23, 2021 5:55:41 am
Parliamentarians in the Rajya Sabha during the Winter Session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Wednesday, Dec. 22, 2021. Rajya Sabha was adjourned for the session ahead of schedule today. (RSTV/PTI)

The Winter Session of Parliament, which began on a confrontational note with the government passing the farm laws repeal Bill without discussions and suspending 12 Rajya Sabha MPs for their conduct in the previous session, was adjourned sine die on Wednesday, a day earlier than scheduled.

With 18 sittings in 24 days, 11 Bills were passed; 13 Bills were introduced.

Beyond the numbers, the Opposition said the session showcased a bullying government that rammed through Bills, did not provide proper replies to questions, and a Prime Minister who did not bother to attend Parliament except for brief customary appearances on first and last days. A majority of ruling party members, they said, chose not to be present in the House on many days despite a strict directive from the Prime Minister.

The government blamed the Opposition for Parliament not having debates. “Our first priority was to discuss the issue of price-rise. Unfortunately, when the Chairman and the Speaker gave them a chance, no one was ready. The Finance Minister was present with her replies,” Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pralhad Joshi said on Wednesday.

He said the government was willing to hold discussions on every issue. “The Prime Minister had suggested that the government should look into the issues raised by members during Zero Hour and there should be action on them. But the disruptions did not let up. It’s not good for democracy,” Joshi said.

Asked about the Opposition’s allegation that Bills were passed without debates, Joshi said: “It’s a baseless allegation. The Opposition should have let the House run.”

Explained

Disruption delays in Upper House

Productivity of Rajya Sabha was recorded at 48% in the winter session. According to data, 60.60% of Question Hour time was lost due to disruptions. Out of total scheduled sitting time of 95 hours and 6 minutes, the House discharged business only for 45 hours 34 minutes. A total time of 49 hours and 32 minutes was lost due to disruptions and adjournments.

In Rajya Sabha, the picture was gloomier. With the Opposition up in arms against “unwarranted (and) undemocratic suspension of 12 MPs in violation of rules of procedures”, productivity of Rajya Sabha was recorded at 48% in the winter session. According to data, 60.60% of Question Hour time was lost due to disruptions. Out of total scheduled sitting time of 95 hours and 6 minutes, the House discharged business only for 45 hours 34 minutes. A total time of 49 hours and 32 minutes was lost due to disruptions and adjournments.

Expressing his unhappiness over loss of time, Rajya Sabha Chairman M Venkaiah Naidu said, “I am not happy to share with you that the House functioned much below its potential. I urge all of you to reflect and introspect, collectively and individually, if this Session could have been different and better. I don’t want to speak elaborately on the course of this session, as that would lead me to make a very critical view.”

With Lok Sabha functioning more days without disruptions, Speaker Om Birla said the Chair has tried to keep a balance. “While 100 MPs from the ruling side were given a chance to ask questions, 158 Opposition MPs got the chance; 324 Opposition MPs were allowed to raise a Zero Hour mention against 239 ruling MPs,” Birla told the media.

In all, he said, “99 members participated in the 12-hour-26-minute discussion on Covid-19. Sixty-one members participated in the short-duration discussion on climate change.”

While criticising the government for not referring Bills to Parliamentary panels for scrutiny, the Opposition managed to send several Bills to House committees. The Biological Diversity (Amendment) Bill was referred to joint committees of both Houses; National Anti Doping Bill, Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill, Chartered Accountants, Cost and Works Accountants and the Company Secretaries (Amendment) Bill, Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill and Mediation Bill were sent to standing committees for detailed discussions.

Although it was listed for this session, the government did not bring in a key Bill — the Cryptocurrency and Regulation of Official Digital Currency Bill, which seeks to ban all but a few private cryptocurrencies while allowing an official digital currency by RBI — in this session. “There is a process to bring the Bill…. We are working on it; it will take time,” Joshi said.

Ministers pointed out that the Opposition did not play a “constructive role” and “did not want to debate any issues in detail”, and instead, disrupted proceedings. According to a Union minister, the Opposition “missed every chance to take on the government; did not have any strategy, nor had unity among themselves”. This, the minister said, gave the government space to have its way.

The session also saw Opposition MPs repeatedly complaining about “unsatisfactory replies” from the treasury benches.

Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, deputy leader Gaurav Gogoi and MPs such as Manish Tewari and Hibi Eden, DMK’s T R Baalu, Dayanidhi Maran and M Kanimozhi, BSP’s Danish Ali and Ritesh Pandey were among those heard complaining in the House that replies of ministers were not proper and direct during Question Hour.

Kanimozhi, who had earlier questioned the government for giving similar answers for her question on the fate of women’s reservation Bill since 2014, on Tuesday criticised the government for trying to push all Bills except this one without consulting the stakeholders or states.

But according to treasury benches, lack of strategy among the Opposition was a major issue in this session. “The Opposition missed many chances. For example, discussion on the Bill extending the tenure of CBI director was scheduled for four-and-a-half hours, but the Opposition did not use that opportunity,” a minister said. “They walked out and did not bother to return. While in opposition, we (BJP) used every chance to put the government on the mat.”

The thin attendance of ruling party MPs in the House has been noticed. Earlier this week, Lok Sabha could not pick up all starred questions listed for oral answers since MPs listed against 14 oral questions were not present — and nine of them were from BJP. The party’s chief whip, Rakesh Singh, who himself was not present in the House to ask his question, later told The Indian Express that the party has taken up the matter “seriously” and is “working on it to see that members attend the House regularly.”

Singh said many party MPs are busy with “election preparations” in five states going to the polls next year.

During the session, 13 Bills (12 in Lok Sabha and one in Rajya Sabha) were introduced. Eleven Bills were passed by both Houses, which includes one appropriation Bill relating the supplementary demands for grants for the year. The Bills include Farm Repeal Bill, 2021; Dam Safety Bill; Assisted Reproductive Technology (Regulations) Bill; Surrogacy (Regulation) Bill; High Court and Supreme Court Judges (Salaries and Conditions of Service) Amendment Bill; Delhi Special Police Establishment (Amendment) Bill; Central Vigilance Commission (Amendment) Bill; and Election Laws (Amendment) Bill.

 

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