By Amit Agnihotri
New Delhi, (IANS) For a change, the budget session of parliament that ended Tuesday saw fewer disruptions. But it also witnessed a cabinet minister’s exit, an unprecedented cartoon row and a war between the treasury and opposition benches over a proposed intelligence hub.
The issue of coalition politics came to the fore when Congress allies refused to back the proposed National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC) hub, forcing the government to keep it on hold.
There was no major movement on the economic reforms front, and critics naturally called the session lacklustre.
“It was a sterile session… The government has no sense of direction,” veteran columnist and former diplomat Kuldip Nayar told IANS. The UPA government completed three years in power Tuesday.
Tremendous heat was generated on the penultimate day Monday, first on the “white paper” on black money Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee tabled in the Lok Sabha.
The opposition tore into it, saying it contained nothing of substance and was a “black paper”.
Later, there was a spirited discussion that the Lokpal bill, introduced in the Rajya Sabha, be referred to a select committee. The government gave in.
The government felt it was the best session since 2009 and cited the passage of Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, 2010 and the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (Amendment) Bill, 2012 as the key highlights.
The budget session began March 12 and ran till March 30 before going into a recess. The second half ran April 24-May 22.
Thirteen of the 70 listed bills were passed including the Chemical Weapons Convention (Amendment) Bill, 2010, Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 2007 and Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill, 2011.
But combative partisan politics tripped initiatives like the Banking Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2011, Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Bill, 2011, andInsurance Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2008 from being taken up.
“No significant bill was passed… while (Prime Minister) Manmohan Singh cited coalition compulsions, Pranab Mukherjee asked people to wait till the Congress gets a majority in 2014,” said Nayar.
On the positive side, the session saw fewer disruptions than in the recent past.
Parliamentary Affairs Minister Pawan Kumar Bansal told IANS: “Financial business was conducted smoothly. Some bills were passed and there were not many obstructions. I thank the opposition for this.”
Political analyst N. Bhaskara Rao said the government appeared to be on the defensive and missed the big picture.
“The session seemed less about the economy and more about party politics… There were no correctives to ensure economic growth and tackle the problem of inflation,” Rao told IANS.
The UPA’s problems started from day one with ally Trinamool Congress chief and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee demanding that the reference to the NCTC be deleted from the president’s address to the joint session of parliament that marks the beginning of the budget session.
Later, Banerjee forced the government to sack Dinesh Trivedi as railway minister after he raised passenger fares.
Under her pressure, Manmohan Singh made Trinamool’s Mukul Roy the new minister for railways.
A sudden controversy over a half-decade-old caricature of Dalit icon B.R. Ambedkar rocked parliament May 11. Some MPs called it demeaning.
The government buckled and ordered the removal of all “objectionable” cartoons from school textbooks.
Fresh allegations against Home Minister P. Chidambaram in the 2G scam surfaced and gave tense moments to the government as opposition members disrupted parliament.
The budget session also saw growing interest on the upcoming presidential poll.
With the Congress desperately seeking Trinamool’s support on the issue, Banerjee has reportedly demanded an economic package for West Bengal.
“There was no message in the budget for the states,” Bhaskara Rao said.”The finance minister’s hint at austerity measures towards the end of the session was more a message to the government than to the people.”
Terming it a “good” session, Congress chief whip in the Lok Sabha Girija Vyas disagreed.
“There were problematic issues but they were resolved through dialogue with the opposition,” Vyas told IANS. “I am satisfied.”