|The Monsoon session of Parliament may have faced a fair bit of stormy weather with protests and disruptions galore on issues, such as the missing coal files and the government’s decision to grant Telangana statehood. But far from being a washout, this August has perhaps been the most productive session for UPA II after the 2012 Winter Session, with the government making up for all the lost time at the fag end of its tenure.
With a number of critical bills already pushed through, the ongoing session has now been extended for the 2nd time, till September 7 as the government hopes to ensure safe passage of key pending legislations, most importantly the Land Acquisition Bill and the PFRDA Bill.
Of the 43 bills the government had listed for consideration five crucial bills including the National Food Security Bill 2013, the Companies Bill 2011, the Land Acquisition Bill 2013 (referred back to the Lok Sabha after fresh amendments), the SEBI Laws Amendment Bill and the NHAI Amendment Bill 2012 have been passed by both the houses of Parliament, while 12 other bills have been cleared by either of the two houses.
The government has also managed to introduce 24 out of the 25 bills it had listed for introduction.
Compare this performance with the last monsoon session where disruptions reduced sittings to only 6 days or the Budget Session where of the 38 bills that were listed for passage only two bills – the Protection of Women Against Sexual Harrassment At Workplace Bill & the Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill sailed through.
This is also quite in contrast with the overall track record of the current 15th Lok sabha that has passed only 153 bills in the last 5 years. According to PRS legislative research, the 15th Lok Sabha has the worst track record since Independence as every Lok Sabha which has completed over 3 years of its full term has passed an average of 317 bills. Where a Lok Sabha has lasted less than 3 years, it has passed an average of 77 bills
Bills still pending this session include the RTI Amendment Bill which has been referred back to the Standing Committee after activists opposed an amendment aimed at exempting parties from opening their accounts to scrutiny and the Judges Appointment Bill to be taken up today. It seeks to replace the collegium system of appointing judges with a new system where the President will, on recommendation from the Judicial Appointments Commission, make appointments.
Finance Minister P Chidambaram has said the Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill, another crucial reform measure which seeks to raise FDI in the sector to 49%, and could potentially bring in some much needed dollars into the economy, will be taken up in the Winter Session, and not in the ongoing session given the reservations expressed by the Standing Committee on Finance about this proposal.
But as lawmakers work overtime, sitting late most evenings to clear the backlog of other pending legislations before the session ends on Saturday, the focus will now shift to the more immediate administrative reforms that don’t need parliament approval that the government plans to initiate, to bring the sagging economy back to life and avoid a sovereign downgrade.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh who is attending the G-20 Summit in St Petersburg has hinted at his government’s desire to undertake the more difficult reforms that relate to radically pruning fuel subsidies and overhauling the tax system. In the backdrop of the over 20% depreciation in the rupee which has made oil imports costlier, reports suggest that deliberations on a diesel price hike could well begin once Sonia Gandhi returns from her trip to the US.
All eyes will also be on whether the government decides on a sovereign bond float as among the options to address the current account deficit. The newly appointed Governor at the RBI, Raghuram Rajan, has made a slew of announcements to encourage dollar inflows into the country, but Finance Minister P Chidambaram hasn’t yet ruled out this option.
Other announcements plausible in the months to come include expeditious auction of new coal and iron ore blocks, steps to spruce up manufacturing which shrank most in four years, more measures to boost exports, raising of PSU capex targets to kickstart investment, recapitalisation of PSU banks – all of which are part of Chidambaram’s 10 point prescription for curing the economy, but have yet to see any concrete action.
The Cabinet Committee on Investments though, has cleared 173 stalled projects with an investment of about Rs 1.9 Lakh crore so far,andis expected to continue fast tracking project clearances.
Clearly, with the productive session of Parliament as a precedent and some sanity in the markets after the governor’s booster dose, the hope now is that the government follows through and acts with equal gusto and resolve on these measures, to bring the economy off the edge of a precipice. Even if it means taking tough, politically unpalatable decisions ahead of the elections.