Winter session embarrassed UPA government

Though not a washout as compared to last year, the winter session of parliament (Nov 22-Dec 29) proved to be an embarrassment for the United Progressive Alliance government in more ways than one.

Starting with the fiasco over decision to allow foreign equity in multi-brand retail, stalled by ally Trinamool Congress, the charge of "running away" in parliament Dec 29 from vote on the contentious Lokpal bill, coupled with the failure to get constitutional status for the anti-graft ombudsman in the Lok Sabha Dec 27, the session had many moments of discomfiture for the government.

The idea of constitutional status to Lokpal was floated by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. When a bill to amend the constitution for that purpose was put to vote in the Lok Sabha, around a dozen  Congress members were not present in the house.   

Earlier, the FDI decision, pulled out of their hats by the UPA managers, did deflect the opposition's attention from demanding voting on debates over black money and price rise issues, but it united the house against the Congress. The government was cornered, drawing opposition not only from allies but from within the Congress ranks as well.

Peace could only be bought by suspending the key policy reform of allowing 51 percent FDI in multi-brand retail.   Another moment of embarrassment for the government came when it decided to drop the pension bill, allowing 26 percent FDI in pension fund, and the companies bill, again under Trinamool Congress pressure, even though an understanding had been reached with the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party to pass the legislations.

Right from the beginning of the session, the opposition cornered the government many times and disrupted house proceedings, demanding sacking of union Home Minister P. Chidambaram for his alleged role in the 2G spectrum scam.

After much heat in the Lok Sabha, an adjournment motion moved on Dec 14 by BJP leader L.K. Advani on "situation arising out of money deposited illegally in foreign banks and action being taken against the guilty persons" was discussed for about six hours. Though the debate provided yet another opportunity to the opposition to corner the government, the motion was negated by voice vote.

The winter session had 24 sittings spread over a period of 38 days. During the session, Supplementary Demands for Grants (General and Railways) for 2011-12 and their related Appropriation Bills, were passed by the Lok Sabha. The Rajya Sabha considered and returned the Appropriation Bills.

While 30 bills were introduced, (27 in the Lok Sabha and three in the Rajya Sabha), both the houses passed 17 bills.  In comparison, during the winter session 2010, only one full day of work was conducted in the Lok Sabha (Nov 9), and not even one such day in the Rajya Sabha, according to PRS legislative research. The functioning of parliament was stalled on all other days over the demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the 2G spectrum scam.

The PRS said the Supplementary Demands for Grants (Appropriation Bills) were passed in both houses without discussion and nine legislative bills were introduced during the session. Two pending bills were passed by the Lok Sabha and none by the Rajya Sabha.

While the Lok Sabha worked for 5.3 percent of the scheduled hours, the Rajya Sabha worked for 2.1 percent of scheduled time, according to PRS.

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