Parliament Winter Session: Too Much to Do, Too Little Time

The short winter session of Parliament began on Friday. On average in a winter session, Parliament meets for 21 days. But in this session, the two houses will meet for 14 days. Even though the two houses will be meeting for a fewer number of days, they have a full legislative agenda before them.

The government intends to get Parliament’s approval on 39 bills. Out of these, 25 are already pending at some stage in Parliament. The remaining 14 are yet to be introduced. The government has set itself an ambitious target of getting them passed by both houses during the session. The government’s floor managers will have their hands full piloting these bills in the session.

Paucity of Time the Least of Their Problems

First, they will have to contend with the reduced number of days. Out of the 14 days, the Lok Sabha did not transact any business today. Two sitting members of Lok Sabha died during the intersession period.

The lower house follows a convention where it adjourns its proceedings without conducting any business as a mark of respect to the memory of departed MPs. Also on Fridays, both houses take up private member business during the second half of the day. So usually there is not enough time left for government’s legislative business.

And other than today, there are three more Fridays in the session. This then effectively leaves 10 days for the government to pass its bills.

But the paucity of time will be the least of the problems for the government’s floor managers. The results for the state elections in Himachal Pradesh and Gujarat will be declared on the 18 December.

If the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party emerges victorious in these elections the treasury benches it will give them an upper hand during deliberations in Parliament. They will be able to assert that the public is in favour of the government’s policy initiatives. A better than expected election result for the Congress party will have the opposite result. The principal opposition party will use it as a rallying cry for uniting opposition parties in both houses.

They will push for debates on economic issues and aggressively corner the government on subjects like the impact of demonetisation and goods and services tax on the economy. 

If the opposition is able to force a debate on these and other issues like the Rafael Aircraft deal, then it will further reduce the time available for deliberating on legislation.

Also Read: Winter Session of Parliament Begins: Lok Sabha Adjourned on Day 1

Muslim Women Bill, FRDI Bill to Be Deliberated

A political contentious bill that the government plans to introduce and pass in this session is the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage), Bill. This bill will give women the right to seek maintenance from her husband in case of triple talaq. The government will also try and push for a bill which will allow for proxy voting for non-resident Indians.

A key legislation that the government will be keen to pass is the Financial Resolution and Deposit Insurance Bill. It was introduced earlier this year and was referred to a joint committee whose report is expected in the first week of the session.

The purpose of this bill is to establish a resolution corporation that will monitor financial firms, anticipate risk in their functioning and resolve them. 

After the report gives its report it is then that the bill will be taken up for discussion in the lower house. Similarly, the Motor Vehicles Amendment Bill which addresses issues around road safety and motor insurance is also being examined by a select committee. The committee is expected to submit its report by the end of the year. If the timeline is met then the government could push for passing the bill in the first week of 2018.

Fewer Debate Days May Push Bills Out Haphazardly

Another bill which is being keenly watched is the Consumer Protection Bill. It overhauls the existing consumer protection framework in the country.

It will bring e-commerce companies within the framework of consumer protection law and among other things provide the mechanisms under which companies will be able to recall products. 

The committee which examined this made a number of recommendations which are being considered by the government and it plans to introduce a new bill which would reflect some of the committee’s recommendations.

This session of parliament will be overshadowed by electoral outcomes and will have an impact on the legislative business before Parliament. Fewer days to debate bills might result in these bills being pushed through without adequate debate. Or if the session witnesses disruptions then the passage of key bills will get delayed.

Either way, it will impact the process of policy reform in the country.

Also Read: Cong Wants PM to Prove “Pak Conspiracy” Allegation in Parliament

(The writer is head of Outreach, PRS Legislative. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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