NEW DELHI: At a time when the scam-tainted UPA II is trying to seek salvation in the customary ‘Report to the People’, likely to be released on May 21, Finance Minister’s Chief Economic Advisor Kaushik Basu’s remarks that major reforms were unlikely before the next General Election only highlight the legislative paralysis of the government.
Despite the tall claims on aam admi, the progress card of the UPA presents a different picture. The UPA government has not been able to get important Bills passed in Parliament—legislations that could directly impact the lives and interests of farmers, women, children, and other vulnerable sections in a positive way.
Apart from the trust deficit, lack of consultation and coordination with the allies, failure to conceive key Bills properly, inability to do proper floor management inside Parliament and infighting within the ruling Congress party are some of the symptoms that have resulted in a legislative paralysis.
Though the government has earmarked a heavy agenda of 129 Bills for legislative business in the Budget Session, as many as 69 Bills are pending in Parliament. These include a host of anti-graft Bills, including the Lokpal Bill. While it could introduce only one Bill, it was forced to defer two Bills in the Rajya Sabha during the session. Some of the Bills enlisted by the government are yet to get the Union Cabinet approval.
The second phase of the Budget Session will begin on April 24 after three week recess and scheduled to go on till May 22. With the first half of the Budget Session was occupied by the financial business, the government has the herculean task of passing 129 Bills to present cheer report to the people on its performance in the last three years.
In a hurry to claim in the progress card, the UPA government is set to introduce official amendments to pension, banking and insurance laws related Bills in this session as promised by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee during his Budget speech. But the government would have to depend on the BJP’s grace to get the PFRDA (Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority) Bill passed. Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley has dropped broad hints that his party met to help the government see it through.
But on the banking and insurance Bills—that would push the economic reform process forward—there’s no consensus within the UPA. Now set to playing ‘more-Left than the real-Left’, Trinamool Congress (TMC) chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee is unlikely to allow these to go through. A section within the Congress is not too unhappy with Banerjee’s ability to derail Mukherjee’s agenda. And, the Prime Minister’s in the process.
To fulfill the constitutional and international obligations, the UPA government is geared to introduce two new Bills in this session, much to the disagreement of its own allies, the DMK and the TMC.
The government will introduce the Tamil Nadu Legislative Council (Amendment) Bill, 2012 to repeal the Bill which was passed in 2010 to create an Upper House in Tamil Nadu. It will also introduce the Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2012 to implement the 1974 land boundary agreement with Bangladesh and its 2011 protocol.
Many Bills are pending because the UPA failed to garner political consensus among its own allies. Some had to be deferred on account of impromptu opposition from the Congress’ own MPs. Both the Educational Tribunal Bill and the Bill to declare the Indian Institute of Information Technology, Design and Manufacturing at Kancheepuram as an institution of national importance, were deferred due to opposition from Congress members in the Rajya Sabha, where the UPA is in minority.
Among pending Bills, some have been on the backburner since 2004. Some were passed by one of the Houses of Parliament, and are waiting for the approval of the other House. More than one dozen Bills are under consideration of the department-specific standing committees. Human Resource Development Ministry tops the list of pending Bills with as many as 14 education reform Bills. Despite three years in the ministry, HRD Minister Kapil Sibal’s education reforms agenda has not moved one inch. Many Bills, including the Foreign Universities Bill, are pending in Parliament. His rejection of several recommendations of the department-related standing committee triggered resentment from the opposition in Rajya Sabha, including his own party members, and resulted in stalling of the Bills.
As per the government’s list, 10 Bills moved by the Home Ministry are pending in Parliament, including the Communal Violence Bill introduced in 2005. Agriculture ministry too hasn’t done any better. To regulate quality of seeds, the UPA government had introduced the Seeds Bill in 2004 with much fanfare. The Bill is yet to get the nod of the Parliament due to utter lack of coordination within the government. A Bill for effective management, regulation, sale, distribution and use of pesticides—the Pesticides Management Bill of 2008—too, is stuck in the Rajya Sabha.
Three women-oriented Bills: one relating to empowerment, another against sexual harassment at work place, and third to make divorce easy are also pending, with the no one knowing when they will see the light of day. These apart, the Bill to provide reservation for women in the Lok Sabha and State Legislative Assemblies is put on hold in the Lok Sabha, the Constitution (110th Amendment) Bill introduced in 2009 to enhance reservation of women in panchayati raj institutions is also pending. The Marriage Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2010, and the Protection of Women Against Sexual Harassment at Work Places 2010, too, are pending.
The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, aimed to establish a fund to pay compensation in the case of persons who have been killed or sustained grievous injuries in hit-and-run motor accidents, is pending in the Parliament since 2007.