Incomplete Housework

Parliament passed important bills but may have left the difficult questions for a future post-poll House.

The most spectacular fact of the Monsoon Session of Parliament that adjourned sine die last week may be that it was extended by five days for Lok Sabha, six for Rajya Sabha. After a series of sessions lost in great part to disruptions, the fact that there was a semblance of a legislature seized of important bills and discussions must be taken as a healthy step forward. Therefore, the two Houses and equally, the government and opposition would naturally be inclined to list its accomplishments. The marquee food security and land acquisition bills were passed. The long-pending companies and insurance legislations were too, bringing forth from the government the requisite urgency to deliver on reform, and from the opposition, especially the BJP, a discarding of hypocrisy in opposing bills that drew from its tenure in government. The message, therefore, appears to be that India may have, at long last, a Parliament acting on its potential, or one that is finally getting there.

Maybe not. This was a session in which both government and opposition had their eyes fixed on 2014, on the forthcoming general elections. In and of itself, that is no bad thing. In fact, honest, fruitful, healthy parliamentary business necessarily demands that MPs be politically attuned. It is part of their job profile to bring their understanding of public sentiment into the House and to politically give an account outside of their conduct within. But the sense is inescapable that government and opposition were chasing just slogans, that they hollowed out the task of appraising and passing legislation to the saleable line.

So, on the food bill presented as a fait accompli by the government through an ordinance there was just not enough effort to tie up loose ends on the funding of the programme, on the states' concerns on coverage and, critically, of the impact on the agricultural economy. Similarly, the land acquisition bill was passed without due deliberation on its working and its implications for future projects. Bills like pension apart, this session left most other legislation to consideration by a future session. Even more worryingly, on the big-ticket food and land bills, the difficult questions have been left for another, post-election Parliament.

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