Thank God for the Juvenile Justice Bill. It may have been passed too late for genuine justice for Nirbhaya since her juvenile assailant is now free to walk the streets after a 3-year remand and will even get government funds for rehabilitation, but it saved the Rajya Sabha and the Congress party some blushes. Congress protests ensured the Rajya Sabha functioned for just 57 hours in the winter session as compared to 109 for the Lok Sabha, and a mere 17% of this time was spent on legislative business versus 30% for the Lok Sabha – even this would not have been possible had it not been for the Juvenile Bill. Of the 9 hours and 45 minutes or so that the Rajya Sabha discussed legislation, 27 MPs spent a whopping 5 hours and 3 minutes discussing the Juvenile Bill. In contrast, a mere 12 minutes were spent on the Schedule Castes/Tribes Bill, and this was due to the time it took to introduce the Bill since PRS Legislative Research records just 1 MP participating in the discussion – in contrast, a total of 2 hours and 43 minutes was spent in the Lok Sabha with 14 MPs participating. The Commercial Courts Bill, the Atomic Energy Bill and the Arbitration Bill got 5 minutes apiece before getting passed on Wednesday – this was the time taken to introduce the Bills and count the votes since not a single MP participated in the debate; the Negotiable Instruments Bill, passed a few weeks ago, took 3 minutes with no MPs participating.
If anything exposes the Congress party’s cynicism, it is this since, when it wanted – or when public opinion such as in the Juvenile Bill case was so strong – it had no problem joining with the BJP to pass the Bills. It is, of course, unfair to blame only the Congress for this mess since, while the BJP opposed the Congress’ GST Bill, it had no hesitation in helping pass bad Bills like the one on land and food security. In 2009, similarly, ex-MP Bimal Jalan points out, four bills were passed in the last five minutes of the session; in 2008, eight Bills were passed on the last day of the Lok Sabha in 17 minutes and, in 2006, Parliament passed the Finance Bill without even discussing it!
The BJP can be blamed for not managing Parliament better, and certainly it goofed up by trying to pass the land Bill since that brought the disparate Opposition together. But the Congress game-plan on GST was always clear since it insisted on demands that could never be met and, once the National Herald case came to light, it alleged grand conspiracy when all that was required was a token presence in the court. Under the circumstances, the BJP’s best bet it to talk to other Opposition parties to get the Insolvency Bill through since that is probably the most important Bill right now, even more than GST where it will take 3-5 years for its true benefits to be available – that’s why the government has agreed to a 5-year compensation window for states. And there is a huge non-legislative agenda that awaits it.