Modi government stretches every muscle for Lok Sabha's smooth functioning
It is not just the sheer numbers that are giving the BJP smooth sailing in Lok Sabha. The ruling party and government are making that extra effort to ensure not just a productive budget session but also proper conduct of legislative business.
After criticising the previous UPA government for not being able to run the lower house, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government, in its first major parliament session, managed not just an elaborate debate on the general budget but also took up the demands for grants of six ministries.
"We have been able to dispense with the major house business efficiently. The government has been in touch with all opposition parties and they also cooperated," Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Santosh Gangwar told IANS.
The Lok Sabha spent 47 hours and 40 minutes discussing the budget in the ongoing session. Of this, 13 hours were spent discussing the railway budget, 15 hours were spent discussing the general budget and 13 hours in discussing the demands for grants. The Finance Bill took 6 hours and 12 minutes of discussion, according to figures compiled by PRS Legislative Research.
M.R. Madhavan, president of PRS Legislative Research, said the functioning of the current Lok Sabha is certainly "better" than under the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
"The parliament is certainly functioning much better than under the previous government. There are fewer disruptions in the Lok Sabha, though the Rajya Sabha is still being disrupted," Madhavan told IANS.
"In this Lok Sabha, the ratio of number of hours worked to the scheduled time is more than 100 percent," he said.
In the last three weeks, the 16th Lok Sabha recorded a productivity of 103 percent, according to PRS Legislative Research.
The participation of first-time MPs in the debate on demands for grants increased by 58 percent with 158 of them speaking on the subject compared to 100 in 2009.
The Lok Sabha also witnessed an increase of 41 percent in participation by new MPs in discussing the railway budget. Interest in the general budget was also high with 26 percent more participation by in 2014 as opposed to the first session of the 15th Lok Sabha in 2009.
The 15th Lok Sabha came out as perhaps the worst performing in the history of democratic India, marred by continuous disruptions and din. Over its five-year term, the house could engage in productive work for only 61 percent of its working time.
Then in opposition, the BJP had called the parliamentary affairs ministers in the previous government "arrogant" and complained that they were not consulted on important matters. The parliamentary affairs portfolio under the UPA was first held by P.K. Bansal and then by Kamal Nath.
Senior BJP leaders say they have taken the UPA shortcomings as a lesson, and therefore Parliamentary Affairs Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu, and his juniors Prakash Javadekar and Santosh Gangwar have been instructed to focus on floor management. In both the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, the ministers are often seen on their feet trying to pacify the opposition members.
"The prime minister has made it clear that the houses should function and there shall be no shortcomings on this from the government side," a senior BJP leader told IANS on condition of anonymity.
"Even if the parliamentary affairs minister or his juniors are not present, any other minister present in the house tries to take control of the situation."
"When the Congress was in power, a major irritant was that the parliamentary affairs ministers were always too arrogant. They never consulted the opposition... So our party leaders have made it a point to address the opposition's concerns as soon as an issue is raised," the leader said.
BJP MPs have also been instructed to come to parliament on time. In a first time practice, the party MPs would also be issued "report cards" based on their performance, according to party sources.
A group on mobile chat engine Whatsapp has also been formed to keep MPs updated.
"(Prime Minister Narendra) Modi-ji has made it clear that there will be no compromise with quality," said a BJP MP who did not want to be named.
"The Lok Sabha is not being disrupted as it used to be. The functioning is smooth, question hour is running... the speaker (Sumitra Mahajan) is handling it well. The government is conducting it well," P.D. Rai, the lone SIkkim MP from Sikkim Democratic Front, told IANS.
"Another major reason is that people disrupting the house often on trivial issues are less," he said.
M.B. Rajesh, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) MP from Palakkad, added that the opposition is also more cooperative.
"The opposition has been more responsible. They not disrupting the house very frequently," Rajesh told IANS.
"We must also not forget that, despite all this, the government has no legislative agenda for the session. That is a major shortcoming". he added.
(Anjali Ojha can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 04-08-2014)