March 11, 2011: A massive earthquake hits Tohoku in Japan unleashing a tsunami, triggering a nuclear disaster in Fukushima—perhaps the worst since Chernobyl.
March 14, 2011: PM Manmohan Singh assures Parliament that work is underway towards strengthening India’s national Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority.
August 31, 2011: Union Cabinet clears the setting up of an independent nuclear safety regulatory authority.
September 7, 2011: Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority (NSRA) Bill, 2011 is introduced in Lok Sabha.
March 6, 2012: The Standing Committee on Science and Technology submits its report on NSRA Bill 2011.
March 27, 2012: PM tells the Plenary of the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul that India is “setting up a statutory, independent and autonomous Nuclear Safety Regulatory Authority”.
October 17, 2013: Public Accounts Committee of Parliament—in view of the expansion in nuclear commerce—asks government to strengthen safety and regulatory network.
February 2014: The assured safety and regulatory framework is yet to be put into place because the NSRA Bill, 2011 is on the pending list.
The NSRA Bill 2011 is only one of the bills—introduced between 2004 and 2013 —stranded in Parliament between legislative inadequacy and administrative incompetency. Last week, there was the predictable anger over the fact that bills were passed by Parliament with scarcely any debate and that of the 118 bills passed, only 27 were really debated. Of course bills must be debated and fiercely argued. But does the system enable this? For starters, MPs come under the “party whip factor” which leaves little room for plurality of arguments. Second, is there plurality? Did any party—or MP—question the expansion of entitlement to 67 per cent of the population under the Food Security Bill? And remember many bills are robustly vetted in the standing committees. So let us not get carried away by the flash-flood of grief and outrage.
What India must really get angry is the conversion of Parliament into Protestistan, Sloganistan and Campaignistan. And it is not just the Opposition that is obstructing legislation. The greater responsibility and blame lies with the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance which has reduced administration and legislation into opportunistic crisis-driven electioneering. Witness how some bills stay stalled, how some jump the queue and how some are drafted and withdrawn—all based on political and electoral benefits.
Between 2004 and 2014, 38 bills lapsed, 20 bills have been passed in one House and not passed in another—and 107 bills are left untended and pending in Parliament. (Reference: PRS Legislative). And it is this negligence, this dereliction of duty that should anger Indians. And the Opposition has abetted by not questioning the pendency and cornering the government. Why not a walkout on pending bills? It is a shameful fact of India’s parliamentary democracy that legislation on issues critical for growth, development and empowerment has been neglected by political parties.
Corruption has haunted India and dogged the UPA. Yet legislation is neglected. Consider the track record. The Benami Transactions (Prohibition) Bill, 2011: introduced August 18, 2011 and pending. The Whistle-blowers bill: introduced August 26, 2010 passed in Lok Sabha in December 2011, yet to be passed in Rajya Sabha. The Right of Citizens for Time-bound Delivery of Goods and Services and Redressal of their Grievances Bill, 2011 would address day-to-day corruption. Status: Introduced December 20, 2011 and pending. The Public Procurement Bill, 2012 would address tendering but is left stranded. Chit fund scams galore, but the Securities Laws Bill to empower SEBI is kept pending. Without these instruments, the Lokpal will be that less effective in combating corruption. Add the bills for a coal regulatory authority, judicial standards and accountability, the prevention of bribery of foreign officials and the judicial appointments commission bills to get the picture of pendency.
In sector after sector, issue after issue, critical legislation is pending, defying political sanity and public interest. The Foreign Education Institutions Bill, 2010 to allow and regulate foreign universities in India, the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority Bill, 2010 on standards and the Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Educational Institutions Bill, 2010 are all vital for students. But a cross-party consensus has stalled them all. Reason: politicians are India’s largest e-barons! Take the Aadhar issue. The Unique Identity Card was presented as the empowering game changer by Congress and UPA. In February, over 550 million persons are registered on the system but the National Identification Authority of India Bill, 2010 introduced December 3, 2010 is yet to see the light of day.
For any economy struggling to ramp up growth, legislation is essential. The Insurance Bill, Direct Tax Code Bill, Public Procurement Bill and GST Bill—which would add between 0.9 and 1.7 per cent to GDP growth —are all critical but stranded. There is a lot of outrage in TV studios over sliding growth, inflation and job creation and there is plenty of blame being passed around. Good governance demands political ballast and sagacity—qualities that seem in short supply across the political spectrum. This being election season, it might be a good idea to ask parties to define “pending” to propel decisions and legislation.
Shankkar Aiyar is the author of Accidental India: A History of the Nation’s Passage through Crisis and Change