Raising the level of discourse in Parliament is the need of the hour

The first phase of Parliament’s budget session that spreads over the next 10 days will have to send out a strong signal that lawmakers mean business. Unlike the winter session where the Rajya Sabha’s output did not cross 54.5 per cent and the Lok Sabha clocked 91.6 per cent, a significant improvement in functioning of the two Houses will have to be ensured. Both, the ruling BJP-led alliance and opposition parties will have to make enormous efforts to ensure that the 10-day sitting of the budget session does not go waste. Of course, this should not be interpreted to mean that the Parliament session would have to limit itself to the legislative business mooted by the Narendra Modi government. Opposition parties — big or small — must be given the space to articulate their views and allowed to seek amendments to contentious legislations. While the ruling alliance has a brute majority in the Lok Sabha, the Rajya Sabha’s working will also define the ‘working relationship’ between the NDA and UPA. In a parliamentary democracy, each party is entitled to its views, perceptions and also a strategy of its own to pursue issues it thinks are important. Opposition parties, especially, have a key role in a thriving democracy to keep the treasury benches in check. The treasury benches will have to recognise that opposition parties have a role to play in Parliament.

Highlighting lacunae in the government’s decision making will, in fact, lead to better governance by the ruling alliance especially on key politico-economic issues. The opposition parties have a golden opportunity to put the government on the back foot, especially on rural distress. There are some efforts to alleviate the situation. States like Telangana have gone ahead with the idea of a separate farm budget to ensure adequate focus, allocation of resources, their management and delivery of farm and rural schemes. Whether the centre should follow this model to focus on farm and rural economy is the moot question? After having done away with a separate railway budget, several ruling and opposition members may differ on what Telangana has done. But, a separate agriculture and rural budget at the centre is worth considering.

Instead of trivialising the discourse on petty procedural issues, both the ruling alliance and opposition parties may have to consider if the rural and farm policies practised to date have outlived their utility. For instance, the key question is why beneficiaries of the ever-burgeoning farm loans continue to be stagnant? Farm credit was expected to cross Rs 11 lakh crore while farmers who benefited, continued to remain at four crore over the last 14-years. The efficacy of farm subsidies and interest subvention schemes need to be put to debate. Why is it that the national agriculture market (NAM) has turned out to be yet another sham in the making with brokers and their stooges dominating the e-platform at a time when real small farmers continue to get pittance for their produce?

The passage of bills cannot be the sole barometer for success or failure of a session. Instead, their relevance or absurdity should come to the fore. In this context, it is pertinent to understand why phasing out archaic laws continues to face inordinate delays. While disruptions should be the last option, there is enough ammunition with the opposition – beyond the issue of farm distress – to put the government on the mat. Parliament cannot ignore the huge churn within the highest echelons of the judiciary with some parties seeking impeachment of the Chief Justice of India. There is a possibility that the violence pertaining to the release of the film ‘Padmaavat’ would be raised by opposition parties. Meranwhile, opposition parties owe an explanation for the delay in adopting the Triple Talaq bill that has already been passed in the Lok Sabha. Given the seriousness of these issues, emotions and partisan display should not be allowed to take over. Walkouts and disruptions should be minimal. Raising the level of discourse in Parliament is the need of the hour.