Jayachandran/Mint
Jayachandran/Mint

The country deserves a productive winter session

The opposition should enforce accountability through debates, not disruption

Parliament will begin its winter session on Thursday. It will also be our first Constitution Day, since 26 November 1949 was when the constituent assembly adopted the founding document of the Indian republic. The government notification last week said that Constitution Day will be an opportunity to promote constitutional values among citizens. We hope parliamentarians also embrace these values by getting some legislative work done.

And there is a lot of work on the table. The most important, of course, is the constitution amendment bill related to the goods and services tax (GST), which is pending in the Rajya Sabha. The government has said on several occasions that it intends to implement GST from the next fiscal year. Other important bills which have been passed by the Lok Sabha and are awaiting approval from the upper house include The Negotiable Instruments (Amendment) Bill, 2015, and The Whistle Blowers Protection (Amendment) Bill, 2015.

Politically, after the drubbing of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance in the Bihar assembly elections earlier this month, it is likely that the opposition parties would want to unite and consolidate their position. In fact, some regional parties which were supporting the government are also likely to change tack this time. Every session has its own big issue and this time “rising intolerance" is likely to dominate the proceedings, at least in the initial phase of the session. The opposition would also want to corner the government on many other issues, such as the state of the economy, prices of essential commodities and growing distress in the farm sector after two consecutive droughts.

However, despite the perceived importance of issues and possible political realignment in the aftermath of the Bihar elections, it is important to avoid a monsoon session-like outcome, when little work got done. According to data provided by PRS Legislative Research, the Rajya Sabha worked for only 9% of the time available during the session, its worst performance since the winter session of 2010, when it utilized only 2% of the allotted time. During the monsoon session this year, the government introduced eight bills in Parliament, but managed to get only one passed.

While it is the responsibility of the government to ensure the smooth functioning of Parliament, the objective is impossible to achieve if the opposition is hell bent on bringing things to a standstill, as happened during the last session. Therefore, to avoid a repeat, both sides will have to find a middle path. There is no other way. Undoubtedly, the government will have to improve its floor management and reach out to the opposition in order to ensure smooth functioning of both houses of Parliament. The government must realize that despite a comfortable majority in one house, it still needs cooperation from other parties to improve the ease of doing parliamentary business.

Similarly, the opposition, especially the Congress party, must appreciate that disputation is not an end in itself. Obstruction has diminishing returns and, if used too often, it can backfire. The opposition has the responsibility of holding the government accountable for its acts, but it can only be done through debates, and not by holding placards and rushing into the well all the time. To be sure, discharging the duty of opposition is not always easy and requires a fair amount of hard work which includes picking the right issues. Last time, the opposition didn’t allow the Parliament to function on issues related to Lalit Modi, and when it finally agreed to the government’s offer of a debate towards the end of the session, members were not prepared to counter the government.

The monsoon session was wasted. All political parties must, therefore, work towards avoiding such a situation in the winter session. As B.R. Ambedkar warned on 26 November 1949, the Indian nation suffers when constitutional values are abandoned.

Will the government be able to get important legislations passed in the winter session? Tell us at views@livemint.com

Close