Falling standards

It does no credit to parliament that much of the Union budget was passed without any substantial discussion and the House, as it has done almost every year, applied the guillotine to the provisions. The demands for grants of all ministries except five were passed without a debate. It is poor consolation that the situation was better than last year. The difference was that there were parliamentary standing committees last year and those attached to various ministries discussed their allocations in detail. These committees have not yet been constituted in the present Lok Sabha and therefore there should have been more detailed debates in the House. Even the discussions by committees are no substitute for open debates in the House. They at least gave the impression that there was some scrutiny.

One excuse could be that there was not much time left with parliament for a detailed discussion of the budget. The vote-on-account adopted by the Lok Sabha before the last election authorised the government to draw money from the Consolidated Fund of India only till July 31. Therefore the budgetary process relating to the coming months of the year had to be completed before that date. But the budget is the most important financial document and policy statement of the government and it deserves to be taken more seriously. The situation might not have been much better even without the time constraint. The time devoted for budgetary discussion has been declining every year.

While 134 hours were spent on the discussion in 1985 just over 7 hours of scanty debate saw the budget approved in 2004.

The quality of debate has also been falling year after year. This is not the case with only discussions on the budget. It is a rare speech by a member that throws up an informed comment or a useful suggestion. If parliament was short of time, even the available time was not well utilised. Those from the BJP who could have made the best contribution to the debate, like Yashwant Sinha in the Lok Sabha and Arun Shourie in the Rajya Sabha, did not participate in the debate because of the post-election problems within the party. The 15th Lok Sabha has only started its term. Unfortunately, members and leaders of parties need to be told so early that they must take the business of the House more seriously.

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