Column: Who will foot the Bill?

Jan 07 2014, 02:53 IST
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SummaryUPA-2 has passed 163 Bills so far, the lowest by a full-term Parliament. As of now, 126 Bills are pending

The fifteenth Lok Sabha, which likely has a couple of weeks of sittings left before the general elections, has been one of the least productive and effective ones. The trend has been visible for some time. The number of sittings have been decreasing over time—from a high of 120-140 days in the 1950s and 1960s, to decline to a stage when we are glad to have 70 sitting days in any year. And even these sitting days are not utilised—a significant amount of time is lost to disruptions. Indeed, the current Lok Sabha fares the worst on the metric of proportion of scheduled time that is lost to disruptions—it has lost over one-third of the scheduled hours. The contrast on combining declining sitting days with increased disruptions is stark: each of the first three Lok Sabhas logged over 3,700 hours in the House; at the 90% mark, the 15th Lok Sabha has sat for less than 1,350 hours. This Lok Sabha will sit for less than 40% of the time that the first three Lok Sabhas averaged.

One of the main casualties of this performance has been the inability of Parliament to pass key legislations. The current Lok Sabha has passed a total of 163 Bills so far. This is the lowest number of Bills passed by a full-term Parliament (see graph). The previous two Lok Sabhas (corresponding to the NDA government and the UPA-1 government) passed 297 and 248 Bills, respectively. Even these figures indicate a decline: the first three Parliaments as well of the two full Parliaments in the 1980s passed over 330 Bills on average, while the extended Parliament of the early 1970s (including the Emergency period) passed 482 Bills.

Indeed, the lower amount of time available has affected the level of deliberation on the Bills that were passed. Over a third of all Bills passed by the current Lok Sabha witnessed less than one hour of debate. These include key Bills such as the one that protects women from sexual harassment at workplace, which was passed without any debate earlier this year.

The first session of the current Parliament started with the President’s address listing out the priorities of the government. In this address, eight Bills were listed as part of a 100-day agenda. Of these, just one—the Food Security Bill—has been passed, in the fifth year of the government. Of the other seven Bills, three relate to reservation

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