An unfulfilled Agenda

A relatively less turbulent Parliament still failed to clear the legislative backlog during the budget session

The big positive of the budget session of Parliament was that it was relatively less turbulent. Parliament met for the scheduled 35 days; there were some disruptions in the first part of the session but the second part went off smoothly; Lok Sabha worked for about 89 per cent and Rajya Sabha for 94 per cent of the scheduled time.

That said, Parliament could not clear much of the legislative backlog. The government had listed 39 bills for consideration and passing (other than the Finance Bill and the Appropriation Bill). Parliament passed 12 bills. The government’s agenda had 30 bills for introduction; it managed to introduce 17 bills. At the end of this session, the number of pending bills has moved from 96 to 101.

Several of the bills that were passed related to the ministry of human resource development. These included two bills to amend the IIT Act and the NIT Act. These bills had gained urgency as students passing out of the new IITs and IISERs could not otherwise be granted degrees. The Right to Education Act was amended to address the issue of children with disabilities. The timeline for providing 27 per cent reservation to OBCs in central universities was extended by three years.

The copyright bill was finally passed. The most contentious provision in the bill was to prevent music composers and song writers in films from assigning their rights to any person for any medium other than the film track or music recording. The argument made — very eloquently by Javed Akhtar in the Rajya Sabha — was that producers force these artists to sign away their rights, and they do not get a share in the royalties if the song is a hit in media such as cellphone ringtones and caller tunes. Parliament endorsed this view.

Parliament passed a bill to protect children from sexual offences. The Indian Medical Council Act was amended to grant a further extension to its board by one year. Recall that the Indian Medical Council had been dissolved on allegations of corruption and an interim board was established. A bill established separate high courts in the states of Manipur, Meghalaya and Tripura. The Administrators-General Act was amended to increase the pecuniary jurisdiction of AGs from Rs 2 lakh to Rs 10 lakh. The list of scheduled tribes was amended to modify the list of recognised STs in Karnataka. The Anand Marriage Act, which recognises a traditional form of marriage among Sikhs, was amended to make registration of marriage compulsory. The Railway Property Act was amended to curb theft of railway property.

Some important bills were introduced. The Public Procurement Bill requires all government departments and public sector units to adopt certain norms for awarding contracts for goods and services. The Microfinance Bill brings the sector under the purview of the RBI for regulation of interest rates, fees etc. The Piracy Bill includes piracy as an offence under the Indian Penal Code and enables the establishment of fast-track courts.

The Rajya Sabha witnessed a rare event. It discussed two rules — the Information Technology Rules, and the Airports Authority of India Rules. Rules are notified by the government but may be amended or repealed by Parliament. In both cases, Rajya Sabha decided not to modify the Rules after the respective ministers gave assurance that they would take a second look at the issues and consult various stakeholders.

As has become the norm, the budget was passed with little scrutiny of the demands of various ministries. Allocations for only four ministries were discussed while the remaining allocations, amounting to 91 per cent of the budget, were approved without any discussion. Last year, 81 per cent of the budget was approved without discussion.

Yet another session has passed with an increasing list of pending legislation. Pending bills include those related to the broad economy (companies, direct taxes code, goods and services tax); financial markets (insurance, pension, commodity derivatives, banking regulation); agriculture (seeds, pesticides), social welfare and equity (food security, land acquisition, women’s reservation), service delivery and reduction of corruption (Lokpal, benami transactions, prevention of money laundering, UID, citizen’s grievance redressal, electronic delivery of services), among others. With just two years to go before the next elections, much of this agenda will remain unfulfilled unless Parliament allocates more time for legislative business.