Cong-Left sparring continues, business gets a small push

Cong-Left sparring continues, business gets a small push

New Delhi: The winter session of Parliament that concluded on Friday saw heated political action with differences between the Congress and its key ally the Left Front coming to the fore.

All told, the session lasted for 17 sittings between 15 November and 7 December. It saw 15 Bills being passed and 14 being introduced in Parliament. The Mint Parliament Tracker, a measure of how productively Parliament spent its time, shows that during the session, Rs19.8 crore was spent on productive business, while Rs9.4 crore was wasted. In addition, Parliament spent Rs7.6 crore working beyond mandated hours in an effort to catch up with pending business.

The Bills introduced in Parliament include critical ones such as the Rehabilitation and Resettlement Bill, 2007, and the Bill to amend the Land Acquisition Act of 1894.

The two Bills will decide how and when land can be acquired for industrial or other non-farming activities, and how the people displaced by such acquisitions need to be rehabilitated and compensated.

Recent months have seen violent protests against such acquisition, most notably in Nandigram in West Bengal where initial protests by local farmers against a proposed special economic zone (it was later relocated) have since spiralled into a violent fight for control of the area between the Communist Party of India (Marxist), a key constituent of the Left Front and its ­rivals.

The chill between the Congress and the Left Front meant the government did not stand a chance of getting its allies to reconsider their stand on reforms in banking, labour and factory law. The Left Front is opposed to any change in existing laws in these areas.

And although health minister Anbumani Ramadoss managed to rush through a legislation to retrospectively cap the retirement age of the director of All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), he failed to introduce a Bill against fake drugs that he had promised to during the session.

“This was clearly not the best use of Parliament, not just because the legislation restricts the autonomy of the institution but also because it was clearly aimed at removing the incumbent director, Dr P. Venugopal," said Pratap Bhanu Mehta, president of the Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think tank. “To actually misuse Parliament in this manner is to lower the dignity of legislation." Ramadoss and Venugopal have been sparring over the functioning of AIIMS, which falls under the health ministry.

According to PRS Legislative Research, an independent body that tracks the functioning of Parliament, the Parliament worked for 66 days in 2007, the lowest in the past eight years, excluding 2004 that was an election year. This number was 16 days lower than initially budgeted. According to PRS, this year, the Lok Sabha worked for 4.3 hours a day and the Rajya Sabha for 3.3 hours a day (both are the lowest in the past eight years) compared to their mandated work timing of six hours each. In a recent speech, the Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee had said that every minute’s adjournment of Parliament meant a loss of Rs26,000 a minute.

In political terms, the just-concluded session highlighted the widening rift between the Congress and the Left Front. While the Congress attacked the Left over Nandigram, the Left Front reiterated its opposition to the nuclear deal.

“It is hard to see how the Congress or the Left parties can back down after the debates in Parliament. It was quite dramatic to see the Left staging a walkout along with the Samajwadi Party and the BJP over the nuclear deal," said Mehta.

“It was a short session but a memorable one," said Bharatiya Janata Party’s L.K. Advani, leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. He added that the Left Front was isolated on the issue of Nandigram and the Congress on the nuclear deal.