Budget Session: no time for debate

Budget Session: no time for debate

After the shortest Winter Session of Parliament since 1999, with only 14 sittings, the Budget Session began on Monday with the customary President's address. Soon after the Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament met and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley tabled the Economic Survey 2017-18 in the Lok Sabha, both Houses were adjourned to meet on February 1, when the Union Budget for 2018-19 will be presented. The first part of the Budget Session will last only till February 9. After a recess of nearly a month, the session will resume on March 5 and go on until April 6.

At the all-party meeting held on Sunday to discuss the business that the government proposes for the session, opposition parties have expectedly hit out at the government for such a short first phase of the session, accusing it of running away from critical issues it wanted to raise.

That the government side remained silent through the all-party meeting indicates that despite brave words, the treasury benches seem to have no appetite to face the opposition at a time when the latter appears set to pin down the government on issues such as the crisis in the judiciary, the implementation of the GST, farmers' distress and the free play violent fringe groups have been allowed in the BJP ruled states. There are only four full working days in the first part of the session, during which the Budget is to be presented. The only law that the government wants to be passed is the triple talaq bill, with an obvious political agenda.

In fact, a reluctance to face Parliament has been one of the pronounced characteristics of the Modi government. According to an analysis by public data analysis website, Factly, the average number of Budget Session sittings during the first NDA government was 37, which fell to 34 during the two successive terms of the UPA government. During the first three years of the Modi-led second NDA government, it has fallen to 32. This is unfortunate. In a liberal democracy, discussions and debates on important issues of the day are key functions of a Parliament apart from discussion and debate for the purpose of immediate legislation. Both the treasury benches and the opposition benefit from such discussions. It is the duty of the government to convene parliamentary sessions and to give enough time and space for debate on the burning issues of the day. As Edmund Burke famously said, "Parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole." The Modi government must realise that it is not in the national interest to dilute the deliberative function of Parliament.  

 

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