What to expect from this part of the budget session

Second part of budget session will see government bringing 27 bills for passing

Parliament resumes its budget session today, and will have sittings till 7th May.  During the four week break, the standing committees have examined the demand for grants of various ministries; in the next few days, they will present their recommendations to the two Houses.  The demand for grants and related appropriation bills as well as the Finance Bill will be debated and voted upon during the next three weeks.

In addition to budget related work, the government had listed  27 bills for passing and 63 bills for introduction during the budget session. In the first part of the session, one bill was passed and six introduced.  That leaves a lot of work for the next three weeks if the original agenda is to be completed.

Perhaps the most contentious issue will be the passage of the women’s reservation bill in Lok Sabha.  Though the Congress, the BJP and the left parties are committed to get the bill passed, there are dissentions within the ranks of both UPA and NDA.  In Rajya Sabha, among the UPA constituents, the Trinamool Congress decided to abstain.  Among the parties that provide outside support to the UPA government, Samajwadi Party, RJD and BSP opposed the bill.  Indeed, these parties have indicated that they may withdraw support to the government if it insists on taking up the bill in Lok Sabha; such an action would leave the UPA government with a wafer-thin majority in Lok Sabha.  The BJP too could not convince all its allies on this issue:  JD(U) had intra-party differences, and it decided to permit its MPs to vote according to their conscience.

In the first part of the session, the government had planned to introduce the nuclear liability bill. The bill sets a cap on liability due to any nuclear incident at SDR 300 million (about Rs 2100 crore).  The operator of a nuclear facility would be liable upto Rs 500 million, with the remaining liability being borne by the central government.  The operator can take recourse to the supplier if he has a written agreement stating that.  The BJP and left parties had given notice to oppose the introduction of the bill, and the government decided to drop the bill from the agenda.  It will be interesting to see whether the government agrees to amend some of the provisions of the bill before introducing it.

The education ministry plans to introduce 10 bills related to higher education, which address issues such as permitting foreign universities, establishing education tribunals, setting up new IITs, IISERs etc.  In addition, the ministry has published a draft bill on establishing a new regulator for higher education, which would replace UGC, AICTE etc. There have been media reports on the foreign universities bill though that bill is not publicly available.  It will be interesting to see whether there is any significant departure from the proposed regulatory structure for domestic universities, including reservations for SCs/STs/OBCs and provisions to make and repatriate profits.

The law ministry has listed the judicial accountability and standards bill.  This bill is expected to address the issue of appointment to judges, transparency of their assets and liabilities, and process of imposing penalties (including removal) for misconduct.  The issue gains importance given the recent incidents on all three aspects.  The elevation to Supreme Court of Chief Justice Dinakaran of Karnataka High Court was deferred following some allegations.  Impeachment motions have been admitted against two judges (Dinakaran and Justice Sen of Calcutta High Court).  And most curiously, the Supreme Court will soon hear an appeal against a judgement of the Delhi High Court that decided that the Supreme Court had to respond to a right to information request on assets of judges.

A number of bills have been pending in Parliament for years, and the UPA governments (both versions) have repeatedly stated the intent to pass these bills.  For example, the  Seeds Bill (Link to Bill page on the PRS website: ) was introduced in 2004, and has made its appearance in the session agenda several times from 2007 onwards.  The story is similar for the pension bill, the forward contracts bill, the foreign contribution regulation bill etc.

The first part of the session saw Lok Sabha work for just 57% of the scheduled time and Rajya Sabha for 73%.  The second part has already lost two working days, as Parliament postponed the commencement date. Parliament has a heavy legislative and financial agenda for the next three weeks. Many of the pending bills have several contentious provisions.  It is important that Members of Parliament debate these issues in detail before passing the bills.  It is also important that the budgetary demands are examined carefully so that public resources are allocated in the most appropriate manner.

Editorial note: Kindly check the hyperlinks for further information on these bills at the PRS website.