By Aishwarya Nag Choudhury
The dead-locks and stand-offs
The monsoon session of the Parliament has become the battleground between the Government and the Congress-led opposition parties. With crucial Bills at hand, the number of deadlocks in the house is constantly on the rise. After the washout of the first week, the session resumed on Monday, promising a continuation of the stand- off between the Modi government and the opposition, especially Congress and the left parties.
The session that began on July 21 continues till August 13. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, before its commencement, said to the media that he hoped for a fruitful monsoon session in which MP’s would contribute towards making good decisions.
However, it seems that the opposition has no intention of cooperating with the current government as they continue the second week of the session with heels dug into controversies surrounding BJP.
On the first day itself, Rajya Sabha witnessed vociferous discussions on controversies related to Sushma Swaraj, Vasundhara Raje, Shivraj Singh Chouhan, and the Vyapam scam. The house proceedings were disrupted twice and finally adjourned. The opposition demanded discussion on all issues and the immediate resignation of Sushma Swaraj who currently holds the external affairs portfolio. On the second day of the session, the opposition was seen wearing black bands and holding placards demanding Swaraj to resign. The session was adjourned till Monday.
On July 23, Rahul Gandhi, in a statement to the media said the Congress will not encourage any discussion until the resignation of the external affairs minister is confirmed. He further remarked that the Prime Minister’s credibility is on the decline as he refuses to listen to the voices of the common people.
The Prime Minister agreed to investigate the case of Swaraj but refused any discussion on Vasundara Raje and Shivnath Singh Chouhan, claiming that they are state matters.
However, the government rejected the immediate resignation of Sushma Swaraj. On the flipside, the government is now targeting Rahul Gandhi and the Congress party as a whole.
The Legislative Bills ignored?
Among such intense mud-splattering, the much needed collective effort to resolve disagreements over important bills is completely absent. The monsoon session has 10 pending Bills, 2 controversial Bills that are held up in committees, and more Bills for introduction at hand.
Before the commencement of the session, the Prime Minister had said to that he hoped for the smooth functioning of Parliament and collective effort to resolve the controversies over the Land Acquisition Bill. However, the Congress-led opposition has paralyzed the session over Lalit Modi and other BJP related controversies leading to stagnating discussions over important Bills.
Bills like the Mental Healthcare Bill (2013), Child Labour (protection and regulation) Amendment bill (2013), Prevention of Corruption (2013), and Juvenile Justice (2015) are just a few among the pending Bills that were to be discussed during the session. The monsoon session also had plans to introduce Bills like the Consumer Protection Amendment Bill (2015) and the Road Transport and Safety Bill (2015) among others. However, the highlight remains on the debatable Bills that have been held up in committees for years now, namely the Land Acquisition Bill and the Goods and Sales Tax Bills.
The Prime Minister was insistent on moving forward with the controversial Land Bill. However, the Samajwadi Party has expressed grievances with the amendments made to the bill. “A solution is possible only if the government withdraws amendments.” Samajwadi party’s Rajgopal Yadav said to the media.
A Joint Committee of the Parliament under BJP MP SS Ahluwahlia is looking into the Land Acquisition Bill and has asked for an extension of two weeks to finalize reports. The report of the committee is due for August 3 and debate on the matter till then is unlikely. In case, a consensus is not reached, the government will have to settle with an ordinance once again.
However, BJP leaders are of the opinion that there is nothing wrong with repeating ordinances. They cited examples of ordinances used twice or more by UPA government like the Securities Laws ordinance among others to support their stance.
Similarly, it is likely that the Goods and Sales Tax Bill will also miss its deadline of 2016 because of the face-off in Parliament. The GST Bill remains a key reform Bill, aiming for a unified national trade market. This Bill can dramatically alter the country’s tax administration by replacing a string of levies with a single tax. This is a key constituent of the government’s reform agenda.
However, after the Bill is passed, it will have to be ratified by 29 states in the same way. Congress leader Jairam Ramesh while disclosing his reservations about the GST, after the first day in session, said that the congress has no intentions of cooperating with the ruling government. “So what if we miss the GST bill? During the UPA we missed the GST twice. To us GST is good and simple tax.”
With the government and opposition continuously challenging each other, the monsoon session of the parliament has in reality become the battleground of politicians. What is being ignored are the discussions related to Bills and news of progress in this field had remained scarce. With the parliament resuming on Monday, a continuation of political chaos is expected. However, the progress that could be made regarding legislative bills still remains doubtful.