Excluding unscheduled holidays, the President’s address and presentation of the Union Budget, Parliament lost more than 31 hours due to adjournments, forcing members to put in an extra 44 hours to conclude just the business at hand.
The Mint Parliament Tracker—a daily measure of how productively Parliament spent its time—shows that during the session, Rs19.87 crore was spent on productive business, while Rs4.93 crore was wasted. In addition, Parliament spent an extra Rs6.87 crore on working beyond mandated hours to finish pending business.
Parliament had previously estimated it costs Rs26,000 in taxpayer money per minute of Parliament sessions. Mint’s estimates, which run every day on Page 1 during the session, are based on that estimate. The data on adjournments is also obtained from Parliament.
While the Rajya Sabha worked for an average of little more than 4 hours a day in the first half of the budget session, the Lok Sabha functioned for 4.8 hours a day. That is a significant improvement upon the previous year.
In 2007, according to PRS Legislative Research, an independent initiative that tracks Parliament, the Lok Sabha functioned for an average of 4.3 hours a day, while the Rajya Sabha worked for an average of 3.3 hours. That was the lowest average in eight years.
Prakash Javadekar, a national spokesperson of the principal opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, claimed the government and its Left allies were primarily to blame for the adjournments.
“We are witnessing a strange phenomenon where the government’s supporters are also disrupting the proceedings in the House. As far as we are concerned, the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, L.K. Advani, has made a historic move to reach out to Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Holi. So we hope the next half of the session will be much smoother.”
Satyavrat Chaturvedi, a Rajya Sabha member and a Congress spokesperson, pointed out that during this session proceedings were disrupted mainly on the days preceding the presentation of the Budget.
“Since the Prime Minister had already said the government would focus on the farmers, the Opposition wanted to show that it had pressurized the government into announcing a relief package in the Budget,” he claimed. “That’s the only reason why Parliament was stalled before the Budget.”
The session began on 25 February with the President’s address to a joint sitting of the two Houses and concluded on 20 March in the Rajya Sabha and a day earlier in the Lok Sabha. That happened due to the cancellation of a sitting in the Lok Sabha on 20 March, just as an earlier Rajya Sabha sitting had been cancelled on 7 March. As a result, by 9 May, when the session concludes, the Lok Sabha will have had a total of 33, instead of 35, sittings, while the Rajya Sabha will have had 34 sittings.
Ahead of the session, the government had listed 20 Bills for introduction and 19 Bills for consideration and passing, including six to replace an ordinance.
Important legislation passed in the first part of the session include the Food Safety and Standards (Amendment) Bill and the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, both of which replaced ordinances.
While five Bills introduced to replace ordinances got Parliament’s nod, the Forward Contracts (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 2008, was held up due to opposition from the government’s outside supporters among the Left parties.
“In this session, I hope we will pass the Unorganized Sector Workers Bill,” Gandhi told the Congress Parliamentary Party on 11 March. “In the last session, Bills to amend the Land Acquisition Act and to put in place a whole new rehabilitation policy by law had been introduced. It should be our endeavour to have these two Bills passed before we disperse in May.”
The Congress president’s expressed hope notwithstanding, the Left parties continue to oppose several provisions of these and other proposed legislation, including those intended to relax labour laws and monitor the quality of seeds.
In the first part of the budget session, which concluded on Friday, the Centre sought to keep the spotlight on the sops announced in the general Budget, while postponing discussion on politically sensitive issues, such as rising prices.
Parliamentary affairs minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi promised that price rise would be the first issue to be taken up for discussion when Parliament resumes on 15 April.
Abani Roy, a Rajya Sabha member of the Revolutionary Socialist Party, one of the four Left parties that lend crucual outside support to the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance at the Centre, said the focus will soon shift from promises to performance.
“We heard attentively in the first half of the session because the government made so many promises. But, soon, it will have to start delivering on the promises,” Roy said.