With the first week of this part of the Budget session a near-complete washout, India’s MPs need to do some serious introspection since, as vice-president M Venkaiah Naidu has observed in a recent newspaper article, “legislation is the foremost function of the lawmaking institutions under our constitutional framework”. The Lok Sabha has functioned a mere 53% of the time so far this session, and a host of vital Bills, such as the Finance Bill, are still to be ratified. To be sure, Parliament has seen worse with, in the Winter Session of 2016, seeing just a 16% performance in the Lok Sabha. There is little doubt the Finance Bill will get passed given the constitutional imperative, but if it is to be passed, as it has in the past, without even a discussion of its major provisions, this is clear dereliction of duties. The job of Parliament is to scrutinise the legislation that the central government wants passed, not to merely rubber-stamp it. Indeed, while the Finance Bill will get passed at the last moment, even if the Lok Sabha continues to get disrupted, the same cannot be said for other legislation, such as the Prevention of Corruption Bill or the Fugitive Economic Offenders Bill or the Chit Fund Amendment, since the government will not stop functioning if they are not passed. What is worse than Parliament not functioning is its inability to really focus on issues that matter, and to just remain bogged down in a blame game.
Right now, Parliament is obsessed with Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksey and whether their crime began during the UPA tenure—four years into the NDA’s tenure, it is not even clear why the question is important. As this newspaper has pointed out before, despite the UPA and the NDA governments pumping `1.2 lakh crore into PSU banks since FY11—another `2.1 lakh crore is to be put in over the next two years—PSU banks have suffered a massive loss of value. When prime minister Narendra Modi came to power, PSU banks had a market capitalisation of `453,442 crore or around 43% that of the entire banking sector, but this is down to around 23% today—that represents a notional loss of `330,000 crore. In the case of loans, the share of PSU banks is down from around 79% to around 71% in the same period—shouldn’t MPs be worried about whether PSU banks can survive, and what needs to be done to ensure this? In the case of the farmers, such as the over 30,000 who have descended upon Mumbai, instead of trading charges on whether the MSP hikes were higher during the UPA or NDA period, surely a more mature discussion is called for on what policies are required, the efficacy of some (like eNAM) and the problems with others (stopping exports as soon as inflation rises)? To quote Naidu, “informed and quality debates of yesteryears have come to be replaced by persistent disruptions as the new norm of parliamentary articulation … legislators cannot claim to be agents of development if they indulge in disruptions and demonstrations inside the legislatures”. When it comes to parliamentary proceedings, as the vice-president has said, “all is not well that ends up in the Well”.