Government and opposition must make full use of Parliaments last productive session.
The winter session of Parliament is set to be unusually brief,and its legislative agenda is packed beyond capacity. There are 38 bills lined up for passage,and effectively only 12 working days. Hearteningly,the opposition has taken the lead in requesting that the session be extended into January. There are several matters the BJP appears keen to thrash out on the floor of the House,including the record of the JPC investigating 2G spectrum allocation,Telangana,the Muzaffarnagar riots and crimes against women. While its inclination will be to grill the government on all these matters,the BJPs readiness to stage this confrontation in Parliament,to take on the UPA with argument on the floor of the House,is belated but reassuring. In this Parliaments tenure,session after session has been wasted by the obstructionism of one side and the intransigence of the other,to the extent that this delay became unremarkable.
That said,the legislative agenda does not seem conducive to much cross-party cooperation,given that it bristles with polarising bills. The UPAs slim numbers have forced it to shift its weight from one leg to another,to appeal to the SP,BSP and other parties to pass important bills. But the SC/ST reservations in promotions bill,for one,pits the SP and BSP against each other. The SP cannot abide the womens reservation bill,though it is apparently supported by the BJP and Congress. Meanwhile,though the communal violence bill is not listed on the agenda,the Union home ministry has written to state governments with a fresh draft of the bill and indicated that it would be brought in for the winter session,prompting the BJP and non-Congress chief ministers to express strong resistance to the ill-conceived idea. The UPA should seriously consider whether it is worth its while to torpedo the session with a problematic bill while there are far more important ends to achieve. The direct taxes code,for instance,intended to replace the archaic Income Tax Act,and the insurance bill,will have far-reaching effects on the economy,and all responsible parties should be invested in passing them. Others like the Lokpal bill may be easier to pass,in principle,but their finer details are extremely important and Parliament cannot afford to skimp on the discussion.
While several procedural changes have been discussed,like suspending disorderly MPs,deferring telecasts,and giving smaller parties greater voice,the real answer to a more functional House does not lie in system tweaks. It can only come from all parties acknowledging that partisanship and conflict must coexist with deliberation,that consensus must be wrought on issues that matter. Parliaments standing as an institution of accountability and oversight depends on that.