The 'efficiency' with which the Union Budget and Finance Bill were pushed through in the Lok Sabha was 'wonderful'.
The only thing that happened in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha was obstructed proceedings. Each day, it was a scene of proceedings being suspended and then session being adjourned. It was in the middle of all this that all of a sudden the speaker of Lok Sabha Sumitra Mahajan decides to 'guillotine' the budget in toto and put it on vote without debate. Within a few minutes a budget of 80,000 crores gets passed with voice vote (with Opposition's voice of slogans louder than that!). Soon follow the Finance Bill, Appropriateion Bill and supplementary grants , all with amendments and in one go. Thus 99 ministries and departments pick up funding demands which formed a share of tax payers' money without a minute of intervention from people's side. Among the legislations passed in less than thirty minutes, there are those that allow political parties to receive funds without scrutiny with retrospective effect for 42 years - with implicit permission for its corrupt mechanism - and the bill to increase the salary and allowance of members of Parliament, President and governors.
It is a foundational principle of parliamentary democrary that in the matter of spending citizens' money, there has to be precise debates and assent of people's representatives. When the financial year is about to end, in order to avoid stalemate of parliamentary proceedings, the budget and finance bill have to be passed in parliament within the deadline. The speaker's 'guillotine' power is an unavoidable and last resort to overcome such a hurdle. Such resort to 'guillotine' and getting budget and supplementary grants may be technically valid. But it amounts to extortion of people's money. This has happened twice before, in 2004 during Vajpayee's regime and in 2013 during Manmohan Singh's rule. The degradation of this is all too evident. And this time there are two differences. First, since the railway budget has been made part of the union budget, the amount so wrested has increased substantially. Second is the laxity noticed on the part of the government in resolving the parliament's stalemate and the undue haste allegedly shown by the speaker in the resort to 'guillotine'. A feeling was created that this was something the treasury bench itself wanted. Upsetting the impression created that the 'guillotine' procedure would begin at five in the evening, the speaker was exercising it at noon itself. The detailed debates on budgetary allocations and other proposals used to take six to seven days. They were put to vote after the amendments and suggestions put forward by members were subjected to detailed discussions. But this time, everything was jumbled in a bunch and 'finished off'. Salary hike for legislators and fund collection by parties as they wish; what more is needed? It is as if asking who is there to ask about whatever is being done with people's money.
The Opposition too has to rethink this tactic of obstructing the house proceedings. For the government argues that they had no other choice because of the obstruction created by the Opposition. All the same the onus of taking Opposition into confidence and co-operating with them and thereby making them part of the legislative process, is on the treasury bench. In fact a portfolio of parliamentary affairs and a minister for that exist to ensure the democratic nature of parliament. Problems arise when the treasury bench believes that respecting and consulting the Opposition is below its dignity. When an amount of two and a half lakh rupees is spent by the people for a minute of parliament session, both the ruling side and the Opposition have the obligation to show a sense of responsibility with due respect to the people. It may be recalled that when the BJP was in Opposition, they were also vying to obstruct the house; and the one who had contended that obstructing the proceedings is also democracy, i.e. Sushma Swaraj is now a cabinet minister. And those who had denounced such obstruction then, are doing the same today sitting in Opposition. In fact this is making it easy for the government to get through all bills without any discusion whatsoever. That way, isn't the Opposition playing into the hands of the treasury bench and granting them their wish? What a pity! Some swingle banks and flee. And here the ruling parties themselves rob the treasury and do what they wish. Parliamentary democracy should not become the name for such robbery.