Parliament’s job is legislation. Given the spat between the Samajwadi Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party, witnessed by a visiting Canadian parliamentary delegation, the citizen is likely to think otherwise. This may be a short session, but 43 government bills and 269 private members’ bills are waiting to be discussed and enacted. At least 23 are bills that have a direct impact on the economy. Bills on essential commodities, freedom of information, banking companies, fiscal responsibility and budget management, competition, sick industrial companies repeal, electricity, communication convergence, petroleum regulatory board, securitization and reconstruction of financial assets and prevention of money laundering are examples. Of these, the only one that has been passed is the securitization and reconstruction of financial assets and enforcement of security interest bill. While this law is welcome and will help recover Rs 70,904 crore stuck as non-performing assets, the fact that the government sought an ordinance route suggests that it does not have much faith in its ability to push legislation through. Implicitly, the finance minister also suggested in a newspaper interview that ordinances were the only viable option in a parliamentary setting; that is hardly desirable. Parliamentary sessions cost the exchequer a tidy sum of money and citizens have the right to question the blame game between the government and the opposition.
Perhaps there is a case for earmarking two days of the week for government business (including legislation), two days for other issues and one day for private members’ bills. Alternatively, a few hours every day can be earmarked for legislative business. The opposition is right that responsibility for generating this consensus rests with the government, not the opposition. Had the government seemed to be more accountable and transparent and more open to criticism, especially on various scandals, much of the disruption of normal parliamentary proceedings would not have happened. Nor is it the case that disruptions are only caused by the opposition, treasury benches are just as guilty. And this also impinges on devising a code of conduct for members of parliament and adhering to this code. At the recent World Economic Forum meet, Mr N.K. Singh, member, planning commission, quoted a McKinsey study to the effect that 84 per cent of India’s manufacturing problems are endogenous and related to transaction costs. In Mr Singh’s view, the twenty-three bills pending before Parliament are crucial to reducing these transaction costs. Barring the NPA bill, no such enactment seems to be on course.
What is true of manufacturing is also true of the overall economy. Lack of legislative activity constrains economic growth and imposes transaction costs. Unfortunately, the spate of state-level and Central elections due in the next couple of years does not augur well for legislative business. And the scenario is sometimes worse at the level of state legislatures. Is this the “democracy tax” the country has to pay'