Winter session of Parliament ends, government’s reform agenda halted by opposition’s relentless protests

New Delhi(PTI): The Winter session of Parliament, that saw a mix of storm and business, came to a close today after passing a number of legislations but some key reform bills, including those on insurance and coal block allocations, remained pending.

During the month-long session, the Lok Sabha passed a “record” number of 18 legislations, including amendment bills on coal mines allocation and labour laws, in 22 sittings. The House lost almost three hours due to disruptions and adjournments. The Rajya Sabha, which saw most of the turmoil mainly on the issue of conversions, passed 12 bills during 22 sittings, while 62 hours were lost on account of disturbances over various issues.

The House sat for over 76 hours, while over 62 hours were lost on various issues which also included renaming of Rajiv Gandhi airport in Hyderabad, derogatory speech by a Union minister and bringing back black money to the country. Due to disturbances, the government’s reforms agenda hit a roadblock with Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2008 on raising the cap of foreign investment in insurance from 26 per cent to 49 per cent remaining pending despite being listed for consideration for several days.

The Coal Mines (Special Provisions) Bill, which provides for fresh auction of 204 coal blocks de-allocated by the Supreme Court in September because of a scam, also remained pending in the Upper House even though the Lok Sabha passed it on December 12. Accusing the opposition of stalling proceedings and obstructing crucial legislative business in Rajya Sabha, Parliamentary Affairs Minister M Venkaiah Naidu told reporters that they had held national interest “captive” by their “short-sighted” political considerations.

The opposition and treasury benches, however, sank political differences to adopt resolutions condemning the terror attack in a Peshawar school and slamming the bail granted to Mumbai attack mastermind Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi by a Pakistani court. On the last day too, opposite sides in the Rajya Sabha joined hands to pass a Bill that will give relief to lakhs of dewellers in unauthorised constructions in Delhi facing threat of demolition.

During the session, which began on November 24, Rajya Sabha sat for over 76 hours and more than 62 hours were lost on various issues such as religious conversions, re-naming of Rajiv Gandhi airport in Hyderabad, attack on newspaper reporters and bringing back black money to the country. The last seven working days were almost washed out as opposition raised the issue of conversions and remained adamant on a response from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The government kept refusing, leading to a stalemate.

Because of the deadlock, the insurance bill could not be taken up even though it was listed repeatedly for several days since last week. Earlier, the Select Committee of Parliament had given its report on December 10, paving the way for its consideration. Similarly, the coal bill also remained pending.

Two government bills were withdrawn, one was introduced, two were referred to the Select Committees and 12 bills passed or returned during the session. The bills which were passed during the session include Labour Laws (Exemption from Furnishing Returns and Maintaining Registers by Certain Establishments) Amendment Bill, Apprentices (Amendment) Bill and Merchant Shipping (Amendment) Bill.

Money held in foreign bank accounts by Indian citizens and business entities in violation of law and prevailing agrarian crisis in the country were cumulatively discussed for more than nine hours. V Hanumantha Rao (Cong) was directed to withdraw from the House on December 17 for wilfully obstructing the proceedings by coming to the Well and shouting slogans.

Lok Sabha met for 129 hours, spent over 17 hours to dispose of financial and other important items, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan said, adding it was “laudable and I thank the members for this”. Important bills passed by the House included one on coal block allocations providing for fresh auction of 204 mines de-allocated by the Supreme Court in the wake of a scam. Motor Vehicles Act was also amended to pave the way for allowing battery-operated e-rickshaws to ply in the country.

The much-awaited Goods and Services Tax Bill, which is aimed at overhauling the indirect tax regime in the country, was introduced by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on December 19. He said it will be considered in the next session. During the session, discussions on issues of public importance like conversion issue, bringing back black money stashed away abroad, impact of natural calamities and dilution of MGNREGA were also taken up.
Calling Attention motion was taken up on issues like abduction and harassment of Indian fisherman by Sri Lankan Navy, adulteration in food items, rise in prices of life saving drugs and the spread of encephalitis in UP and other parts of the country, Mahajan said.

A special discussion was also held on the threat of plastics and problems relating to Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana. The Speaker also referred to introduction of 68 non- official bills and discussion on Private Members’ resolutions, including those on implementation of recommendations of the national farmers commission, to impart skills to the youth and achieve the objective of ‘Make In India’.