Parliament gets a tad better, clears critical Bills
The final Parliament numbers may show no major change in terms of the number of hours our MPs worked in the just-concluded winter session—just 7 of 25 Bills listed for clearing were passed, leaving 104 uncleared Bills at the end of the session. Just 53% of the Lok Sabha’s time was used productively—58% for the Rajya Sabha—making this the lowest since Budget 2009 except for Winter 2010 and Monsoon 2012. Relations between the BJP and the Congress have been even more frosty than in the past, with the Congress accusing the BJP of not wanting to do business and the BJP accusing the Congress of wanting to bypass Parliament all the time—indeed, given the high-profile Gujarat elections and the very personal attacks by Narendra Modi, the relations would have got even worse.
Yet, despite all of this, Parliament managed to pass some critical Bills, including those that allowed the change in FEMA to facilitate FDI in multi-brand retail as well as the Banking Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2012, that allows RBI to now hand out some more banking licences. While the former is important, in the long run, for fixing India’s supply chain for both manufacturing and agriculture, the latter is vital if credit growth is to continue—PSUs supply the bulk of loans today, but unless they get R4-5 lakh crore of equity infusion from a cash-strapped government, this will slow down; the only other option is to get additional banks in. The retail FDI Bill, it is true, got passed despite the BJP opposing it, and only because the UPA was able to cut a deal with both the SP and the BSP, but that’s the stuff of Parliament and the most important thing is that, unlike in the past, Parliament was allowed to function and, whether of top quality or not, there was a debate on many aspects of the issue. And, in the spirit of give and take, the finance minister got the Banking Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2012, through by dropping the amendment that allowed banks to take forward positions in commodity markets—in keeping with Parliamentary traditions, the BJP insisted that this major amendment to the Bill be sent to the Standing Committee first.
Expectedly, Parliament wasn’t allowed to function in the case of the reservations-in-promotions Bill since the Lok Sabha got adjourned when an SP MP snatched the Bill from the minister. Given the implications of the government allowing reservations in promotions, perhaps the time this has given all parties should be used to examine the Bill afresh and thrash out a consensus, with necessary safeguards, instead of just ramming the Bill through Parliament. Ditto for the Companies Bill where the 2% CSR is nothing but an extra tax that, apart from everything else, also opens up India Inc to the inspector raj with all its associated ills.