THE second half of the budget session of parliament has become notable for the manner in which the Modi government has subverted parliamentary norms and procedures. Since the session began on March 5, there were disruptions in both the houses of parliament on a daily basis. The main reason for this being the protest launched by the YSR Congress Party and the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) which was till then a partner of the ruling NDA on special category status for Andhra Pradesh. There were other issues such as the Punjab National Bank scam which also agitated the members of parliament.
The government, instead of taking steps to resolve the deadlock and ensure smooth functioning of parliament, utilised the disruption of the house proceedings to get the Finance Bill and the Appropriation Bill passed without any discussion. Thus, a vital function of the Lok Sabha which is to scrutinise, discuss and approve the financial appropriation for the government, which amounts to Rs 89.25 lakh crore this time, was completely bypassed. The guillotine was applied to all discussions for demands for grants and within a few minutes, the Finance Bill and the Appropriation Bill with 21 amendments were passed through a voice vote amidst the din.
After 2004, this is the budget session which has spent the least time discussing the Finance Bill. The responsibility for this lies squarely with the Modi government.
Equally objectionable was the way the government introduced an amendment to the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA) in the Finance Bill which was adopted. This is the second time that an amendment to the FCRA regulations has been made. In the Finance Bill of 2016, the FCRA Act of 2010 was amended to change the definition of what constitutes a foreign company. This was done to enable the BJP and the Congress to escape the judgement of the Delhi High Court which had held them guilty of accepting foreign contributions from the Vedanta group based in Britain.
However, this amendment did not serve the purpose as the donations were received prior to 2010. Hence the second amendment was brought in the Finance Bill of 2018 to make the amendment retrospectively effective from 1976.
Once again, by tagging this amendment on to a money bill, the government has ensured that it will avoid scrutiny and approval in the Rajya Sabha. Such cynical tampering with parliamentary norms and procedures have become the hallmark of the BJP regime.
During the current session, another dramatic development took place with the TDP withdrawing its two ministers from the union cabinet and eventually leaving the NDA and deciding to move a no-confidence motion against the government. By this step, it joined the YSRCP which had also moved a no-confidence motion. But even though more than 50 MPs stood up in support of the no-confidence motion, the speaker declined to take cognizance stating that the house was not in order.
Since then, on six successive days in the Lok Sabha, the no-confidence motion has been stalled from being taken up. The AIADMK and TRS MPs have been going to the well of the house protesting and this has been the pretext for the house being adjourned without taking up any business.
On Tuesday (March 27), the TRS withdrew its action, though the AIADMK continued to protest. No-confidence motions had been moved, in the meantime, by the Congress, the CPI(M) and other parties. Yet, the speaker refused to entertain these motions. At the time of writing this editorial (March 28), the situation has not changed. While the Finance Bill could be passed amidst uproar, the no-confidence motion is not even being admitted when there is much less disturbance.
The BJP has been using the AIADMK, which has become its follower, as a pretext to avoid the no-confidence motion. The reason for this is evident. There is no doubt that the BJP and its allies will have the numbers to defeat any no-confidence motion. But the vote would show the depletion in the ranks of the NDA. With the TDP having walked out, the Shiv Sena estranged and parties like the BJD and TRS which were earlier taking a more neutral position having shifted to the other side.
What has suffered due to the BJP’s chicanery and cynical maneuverings are the democratic process and the credibility of parliament itself.
(March 28, 2018)