New Delhi: The Indian Parliament lost almost 64 hours due to adjournments during the Budget session that ended abruptly on Tuesday when the Rajya Sabha was adjourned sine die—or without giving a date when it would convene again—four days ahead of schedule.
Members more than made up for this by working extra time—72 hours more than they were expected to—in the session, which ended a day earlier for the Lok Sabha. Both houses were originally scheduled to work for 35 days each. However, taxpayers paid both for the adjournments and the extra hours. According to data from Parliament, it costs taxpayers Rs26,000 a minute to keep Parliament sessions going.
The Mint Parliament Tracker—a daily measure of how productively Parliament spent its time—shows that during the session, spread over two parts from 25 February, Parliament spent Rs36.24 crore on productive business, while Rs9.93 crore was wasted. Parliament had to spend an extra Rs11.28 crore on working extra hours. According to PRS Legislative Research, an independent entity that tracks Parliament, the government managed to get only 19 of the 30 Bills on its wish list passed during the session. Similarly, 22 Bills were introduced, against the planned 31.
While the budget session is primarily meant for financial legislations, including the Union and railways budgets, according to PRS Legislative Research the number of non-financial legislations during this session dropped to the lowest since 2005. Only four non-financial Bills were passed this year, while 12 were passed in the budget session of 2005, 19 in 2006 and nine last year.
Again, while both houses were scheduled to work for 35 days, unscheduled holidays and early adjournments saw to it that the Lok Sabha had just 28 sittings, while the Rajya Sabha functioned for 30 days. Average working hours in both houses were, however, the highest in the Budget session since 2005, with 5.78 working hours in the Lok Sabha and 4.70 working hours in the Rajya Sabha.
Among the key legislations that could not be taken up for consideration was The Unorganized Sector Workers’ Social Security Bill, 2007, which was listed in the Rajya Sabha on Monday as well as Tuesday. As reported by Mint, the Left parties, which lend critical outside support to the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance, and the principal Opposition, the Bharatiya Janata Party, were opposed to the legislation.
Moreover, especially in the second part of the session, which began on 15 April, the Centre faced a concerted attack from all non-UPA parties, including its allies among the Left parties, on inflation. The first direct criticism of the prime minister’s office, for alleged nepotism, only added to the Congress party’s discomfiture.
“More than anything else, this session highlighted that Parliament is no longer a forum for serious discussion on policy issues,” said Bidyut Chakrabarty, a professor at the Delhi University’s department of political science. “This session will be remembered for dwindling attendance, even on politically sensitive issues such as price rise and rural development, and unruly behaviour by those present, which the Speaker could eventually do nothing about,” he added.
Politically speaking, Chakrabarty said, the session highlighted the fissures between the Congress and the Left parties as well as the Congress and its other allies.
Even as Jayanthi Natarajan, a Rajya Sabha member and a spokesperson of the Congress party, hailed the introduction of a Bill to reserve one-third of seats for women in the Lok Sabha and state assemblies as a “proud moment” for her party, railway minister Lalu Prasad reiterated his party’s opposition to the legislation.
Analysts say that by curtailing the Budget session, the government may have averted further embarrassment, just ahead of a series of crucial state polls, beginning with the first round of voting in Karnataka on 10 May.