How Far Government Has Gone To Dodge Nirav Modi Discussion

Published: March 23, 2018 17:44 IST
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A fortnight of parliament has been washed out and the government seems unmoved. The sale of coffee, tea and buttered toast in the canteen and in Central Hall has been brisk, but MPs have had to twiddle their thumbs every day, as both Houses have been adjourned. The "North Korean channels" may be blaming the opposition, but it is actually a clever government and its not-so-secret ally, the AIADMK, that have masterminded the disruption, leading to repeated adjournments.

The banking swindle involving Nirav Modi and his friends is one of the biggest scandals in Indian history. Naturally, the opposition wants to discuss it. In the Rajya Sabha, we sought a discussion by invoking Rule 168, which is a voting rule. This means the discussion will be followed by a vote, which will decide if the House is satisfied by the government's response or not.

The government refused to have a discussion under a voting rule. In the Lok Sabha, the opposition sought a similar discussion under a non-voting rule - no vote following the discussion. Again, the government refused. It didn't want a discussion in any circumstances.

In the Lok Sabha, the Speaker strangely did not admit the no-confidence motion on the grounds that the House was not in order. As per the rules, it is the Speaker's obligation to ensure the House is in order. Or that there is enough order for the Speaker to be satisfied that 50 MPs back the motion. Rule 198 is clear on this: "Once a no-confidence motion is moved, and the Speaker is of the opinion that the motion is proper (with regard to documentation), then she must read out the motion to the House."

Note the words "must read out". It doesn't give the presiding officer room for discretion.

It is the government's responsibility to ensure the houses of parliament run. It needs to come up with a compromise formula, offer solutions. It has done nothing of the sort, and has not opened formal or informal dialogue with the opposition. It is simply not bothered. As I see it, the government is not interested in facing parliament till the elections of 2019. It is very likely that future sessions this year will also be disrupted with government connivance.

This attitude is not recent. The BJP-led government has treated parliament with disdain. In the past four years, only nine of 72 legislative bills passed have been scrutinised by a parliamentary committee. The figure for UPA II (2009-14) was 66 out of 116. In 2017, parliament worked for just 57 days. This was lower than the annual average since 2000, which is 70 days.

In fact, the record for 2017 tells an interesting story. As the government finished its priority work - and got its essential legislation through - it began to ignore and scuttle parliamentary proceedings. In the Budget Session in 2017, Question Hour worked for 108 per cent of its allotted time in the Lok Sabha and 86 per cent in the Rajya Sabha. This was impressive, but not indicative.

In the Monsoon Session, these numbers fell to 67 per cent and 72 per cent. In the Winter Session (first week), they plummeted to 50 per cent (Lok Sabha) and 36 per cent (Rajya Sabha). And now, in 2018, parliament doesn't do business at all. The trend-line is clear

There are many other examples. After the Railway Budget was merged with the Union Budget, there has been no separate discussion on the Railway component of the Budget and on Indian Railways. When issues related to the Railways are raised as part of the Budget discussion, the minister does not even respond.

The Rajya Sabha is singled out for step-motherly treatment. All sorts of bills are introduced and passed in the Lok Sabha - where the BJP has a majority and pliant MPs - as money bills. The Rajya Sabha, as is well known, has very limited ability to influence money bills.

Asked about this tactic, the Finance Minister once said, "The wisdom of the [directly] elected House cannot be questioned by the Rajya Sabha." What he meant was: the wisdom of the BJP cannot be questioned by parliament. We have seen that logic play out over the past fortnight.

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Derek O'Brien is leader, parliamentary party Trinamool Congress (RS), and Chief National spokesperson of the party.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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