Never in its history has the Indian Parliament passed so many bills as the 17th Lok Sabha did in its first session. With 36 bills passed in 37 sittings, the lower house set a precedent of sorts and prompted speaker Om Birla to say that it was the “most productive session since 1952”. The house worked 35 per cent more than its scheduled time to clock 281 hours. In comparison, in its first session in 1952, the Lok Sabha had passed 24 bills in 67 sittings. The impressive productivity should somewhat help restore the prestige of the legislative chamber as the cornerstone of democracy.
Apart from passing a record number of bills, both houses of Parliament conducted some serious business. The Lok Sabha sat for 75 hours till late in the evening to transact business. On two days, it even worked till midnight. According to Birla, 1,086 issues were raised by MPs-mostly first-timers-during Zero Hour. Of the 265 first-time MPs, 229 got an opportunity to speak during Zero Hour. They include 42 of the 46 first-time women MPs.
According to PRS Legislative Research, the productivity of the Lok Sabha has been 135 per cent and of Rajya Sabha 100 per cent-the highest in the past 20 years. Adding a feather to the NDA cap, the average productivity of the last (16th) Lok Sabha has been higher than of previous Lok Sabhas under the UPA. Taking into account the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, the productivity goes up further. The first session passed as many bills as the combined last seven sessions of the UPA government.
The BJP-led NDA government’s lack of majority in the Rajya Sabha did not come in the way of passage of bills. PRS Legislative Research data shows that while Rajya Sabha spent 51 per cent of its time on legislative business, Lok Sabha spent 46 per cent of its time on the same.
LANDMARK BILLS, SOME CONTENTIOUS
The first session of the current Parliament will also be remembered because of the landmark nature of some of the bills passed. The list includes the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Bill, bifurcating the state into two Union territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh; the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Marriage) Bill, rendering the practice of instant triple talaq illegal; the Right to Information (Amendment) Bill, giving the government powers to decide the
service terms and salaries of the statutory body head and its members; and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, allowing among other things individuals to be declared as terrorists. The four contentious bills were passed towards the end of the session.
Some of the other bills with far-reaching impact passed by Parliament are the Aadhaar and Other Laws (Amendment) Bill, the Inter-State River Water Disputes (Amendment) Bill, the Dam Safety Bill, the National Medical Commission Bill, the Companies (Amendment) Bill, the Code on Wages Bill, the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Bill, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, the Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill and the Central Universities (Amendment) Bill.
RUSH RUSH JOB?
Critics, however, say none of the bills passed in the first session was referred to parliamentary committees for further debate. Opposition leaders allege that the BJP-led NDA used its dominant position to scuttle serious debate on most issues and hurried with the passage of the bills.
Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma countered Union minister Jitendra Singh in the Rajya Sabha on the RTI amendment bill, saying: “Rajya Sabha is not obliged to blindly endorse the bill passed by the other house (Lok Sabha).” Sharma said lawmaking cannot be done in a hurry as every law affects society.
Surely none of the bills being sent to select committees for scrutiny was an omission by the treasury benches. However, under usual circumstances, a simple voice vote is enough in both houses of Parliament to pass a bill, thereby saving time. Since some of the key bills were contentious and led to pandemonium in both houses, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha had to go for ballot paper votes or recorded votes in the case of 14 bills. Despite such procedural ‘delays’, the just-concluded session of Parliament will go down as one that passed the highest number of bills.
The Rajya Sabha session began on July 20 and ended on August 7. The Lok Sabha session began earlier on June 17 and was to conclude on July 26, but it was extended till August 7. Finally, Parliamentary Affairs minister Pralhad Joshi requested speaker Birla to adjourn the proceedings sine die on August 6, saying “99 per cent of the government business” had been completed.