The parliament’s budget session 2017-18 ended on Wednesday marking a few firsts including passage of key reform GST bill, advancing union budget to February 1 instead of February 28, merging the railway budget into the main document, merging plan and non-plan allocations and nod to the finance bill by March 31.
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The first half the budget session from January 31 to February 9 started with President Pranab Mukherjee’s address to parliament and saw a united Opposition taking on the government over the controversial demonetisation decision but by the second half from March 9 to April 12 the Opposition’s morale was impacted as BJP showed more aggression riding on the major victories in four of the five assembly polls.
According to parliamentary affairs minister Ananth Kumar whenever in the past financial business was completed before March 31, those were either election years having interim budgets or scrutiny by parliamentary standing committees was dispensed with. “This is a big financial reform to make full funds available to ministries for execution of their developmental projects. This is the first time when Vote on Account was dispensed with during the Budget session,” said Kumar.
After initially playing hard ball, the Congress supported the passage of the GST bill claiming that it was UPA’s brainchild and reminded the BJP that the saffron party had deliberately delayed the economic reform legislation when in Opposition.
During the last leg of the session, the controversy around faulty Electronic Voting Machines, once again united the Opposition which pressed for a paper train for all future elections. The BJP and the poll panel rejected the charges that the EVMs were tampered with.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, who repeatedly attacked PM Modi over note ban during the first half, did not show the same aggression after losing four states – Uttar Pradesh, Goa, Manipur and Uttarakhand to the BJP. Even the massive win in Punjab failed to lift the spirits of the grand old party.
Among the other issues that found a strong resonance in parliament were racist attacks on Indians in the US, similar episodes against the Africans in Greater Noida and sabre rattling between India and Pakistan after the latter announced plans to hang former Indian navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav alleging he is a secret agent.
The Opposition targeted the government over the agrarian crisis saying that the interests of the peasants were being neglected and questioned the move to link Aadhaar with filing of income tax returns and PAN cards besides using it in the mid-day meal scheme for poor children.
The Congress alleged the note ban had dented the economy and resulted in job losses even as the BJP listed the benefits of the controversial move.
An aggressive BJP also made another controversial move by clubbing several legislations along with the finance bill and getting them passed as money bills in the Rajya Sabha where the ruling NDA lacks numerical strength. The Opposition cried hoarse over it but the protests fell on deaf ears as the centre followed a business-as-usual approach.
During the entire Budget Session, 2017 the productivity of Lok Sabha was 113.27% and that of Rajya Sabha was 92.43%. Approximately 8 hours were lost in Lok Sabha and 18 hours in Rajya Sabha due to interruptions, which was made up by sitting late for approximately 19 hours and 7 hours respectively.
Total number of Bills passed by both Houses of Parliament was 18. A major highlight was the passing of four historic Bills namely, the Central Goods and Services Tax Bill, 2017, the Integrated Goods and Services Tax Bill, 2017, the Goods and Services Tax (Compensation to States) Bill, 2017 and the Union Territory Goods and Services Tax Bill 2017 by both Houses of Parliament to enable implementation of Goods and Services Tax across the country from July, 1 2017.
SOME BILLS PASSED BY BOTH HOUSES OF PARLIAMENT
1. The Payment of Wages (Amendment) Bill, 2017
2. The Specified Bank Notes (Cessation of Liabilities) Bill, 2017
3. The Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2017
4. The Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2017
5. The Finance Bill, 2017
6. The Mental Health Care Bill, 2017
7. The Employee’s Compensation (Amendment) Bill, 2017
8. The Taxation (Amendment) Bill, 2017