Debate: Will the 2016 Budget session be dead on arrival?

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill is not the only bit of pending business before Parliament when it convenes for the Budget Session of February 23, but it could be the most challenging session yet for the Narendra Modi government.
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Feb 20, 2016, 10.02 AM | Source: CNBC-TV18

Debate: Will the 2016 Budget session be dead on arrival?

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill is not the only bit of pending business before Parliament when it convenes for the Budget Session of February 23, but it could be the most challenging session yet for the Narendra Modi government.

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Debate: Will the 2016 Budget session be dead on arrival?

The Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill is not the only bit of pending business before Parliament when it convenes for the Budget Session of February 23, but it could be the most challenging session yet for the Narendra Modi government.

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The Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill is not the only bit of pending business before Parliament when it convenes for the Budget Session of February 23, but it could be the most challenging session yet for the Narendra Modi government.

The arrest of JNU student leader Kanhaiya Kumar on sedition charges, the ensuing violence as well as the recent suicide of Dalit student scholar Rohit Vemula are two of the many issues that have taken on political hues in the last few weeks

And the prognosis for the Budget session of parliament, which kicks off on February 23, is not good. With both the NDA and the UPA not wanting to be seen retreating from well-entrenched positions just before 4 states -- Assam, West Bengal, Kerala and Punjab -- go to polls, crucial legislation could become casualty.

As of date, 11 crucial bills are yet to be taken up for debate in the Lok Sabha. These include the Bankruptcy Code, Benami Transactions, Factories Amendment, and Land Acquisition bills. New bills like the Finance Bill are also likely to be introduced. As will the recommendations of the joint panel on land acquisition.

In the Rajya Sabha where the NDA has a poor representation, 54 legislations are pending -- 14 of which were introduced by the Modi government. These include the GST Constitutional Bill, the Real Estate Bill, the Whistle Blower Protection Bill, the Indian Trusts Amendment Bill, and the Industries Amendment Bill.

Now there's a good reason pundits are not too sure much work will get done in this session.

"Outside of the Budget event itself, which is tabled as a money bill [and thus can be passed without Rajya Sabha approval], I don't expect much business to be conducted," MK Venu, Executive Editor of Amar Ujala publications told CNBC-TV18.

He pointed to a "pattern" that he saw develop before every Parliament session starts. "There is something that the government does, which unites the opposition and creates a huge polarization in politics," he said, referring to the raid to the National Herald affair that took place right before the Winter Session and now the current controversy over JNU.

"When the Monsoon Session began with everyone looking serious [about conducting legislative business], on the second day, Ravi Shankar Prasad held a press conference accusing various Congress chief ministers of corruption," he pointed out.

Mint Bureau Chief Anil Padmanabhan, however, said that such events were likely co-incidental but he did concede there was a "complete breakdown" of communication between the government and opposition.

The opposition disruption in various sessions has cost the government much.

In the NDA regime, Lok Sabha has lost 67 hours over 6 sessions, and has conducted business for 727 hours. The 2015 monsoon session of Lok Sabha was a total washout, with disruptions totaling 34 hours.

It's been worse in the upper house. Since the BJP came to power, Rajya Sabha has lost 258 hours to disruptions, and seen only 466 hours of business.

Last year's Monsoon Session saw Rajya Sabha transact business for only 9 hours, while 72 hours were lost to forced disruptions -- the worst productive session for the house in 15 years.

The outcome of all this, claim both editors CNBC-TV18 spoke to, is that the ruling party appears tired.

"In the build-up to this Budget, you are not seeing any excitement. The government is not even trying to speak to the opposition, to get consensus or move things along," Padmanabhan said.

He added that it was unlikely that the GST would see any breakthrough in the Budget session, at least in the first half [the Session would resume post a recess]. "Even the signals from the Prime Minister and  Finance Minister have been ambiguous over the GST. So I think we should damp down on having too many expectations from this session."

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Debate: Will the 2016 Budget session be dead on arrival?

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