How to get away with murder in parliament
All the MPs are responsible for ensuring that money bills are discussed thoroughly before they are passed. But they have collectively reduced the process to a farce
For the past seven days, we saw Parliament — both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha — getting consistently disrupted by members of certain Opposition parties. On the eighth day of the session, March 14, 2018, something changed. The disruptions continued but the Lok Sabha functioned.
Well, not really in the way you imagine it functioning.
The lower house ran for 36 minutes on Wednesday and cleared the entire Budget of India without any discussion. It also cleared the Finance Bill 2018, Appropriation Bills and — just for laughs — threw in another Supplementary Demand for Grants into the “things we should bulldoze through today” list of items.
Basically, shit went down really fast and furiously in a very short span of time. Here’s a rundown of what happened and why it’s quite, quite messed up.
The sequence of events
11:00 am: Lok Sabha assembles. Opposition Members of Parliament from certain parties storm the well to disrupt the session. Lots of placard-waving and screaming ensues. This sequence of events has been witnessed for the past seven days, so it seems… uhh… normal?
11:02 am: House adjourns till 12. But before it adjourns, the Speaker mentions that the Demand for Grants guillotine, which was supposed to happen at 5 pm will be advanced to 12 pm. Just like that.
The Demands for Grants are individual ministry budgets, each of which Parliament has to scrutinise and give views on. These are documents in which every ministry is “demanding” some “grants” for doing specific works.
Since we have 51 Ministries and it’s impossible to discuss all of them, usually Parliament picks out four to five ministries to have detailed discussions on. This year, Ministry of Railways, Agriculture & Farmers Welfare and Social Justice & Empowerment were slated to be taken up. The remaining ministry demands are bunched up together and passed together, after a short discussion of a few hours.
THAT was supposed to happen at 5 pm. It was moved up the list.
12.00 pm: Lok Sabha reassembles. Speaker asks ministers to lay papers before the house. These are official reports that are offered to Parliament and made public.
12:06 pm: After laying the papers, the speaker quickly announces that all cut motions put forward by members have been considered and will be voted on together. She puts them to vote and declares that they’ve all been denied.
Cut motions are amendments suggested by members to the actual budget. MPs put in a motion that says they disagree with particular demands made by ministries and they’re supposed to give a reason for it. None of these were entertained. None of these were considered. All of them were bunched up together and denied.
Meanwhile, random MPs continued screaming in the background. Someone screamed, “LOK TANTRA KI HATYA BAND KARO! [stop killing democracy]” pretty much throughout this whole process of insanity.
How very profound.
12:07 pm: Speaker starts rapidly reading out ALL the names of the Demands for Grants from different ministries. To put an image in your head, she was like Shankar Mahadevan singing a legislative version of “Breathless”.
All this while, MPs from the Treasury were just… Uh… chillin’. Watching this unfold before them as if it’s an everyday occurrence and tohtally normal.
12:11 pm: All demands for grants got cleared in one go by putting them up for a voice vote.
The speaker even motioned the treasury to vote “Aye” when it was their turn to scream out a vote. Obviously, because nobody could hear anything, you see?
To give you some perspective, the Demands for Grants for 51 ministries were cleared in four minutes. This process usually takes a whole week to get through since each selected ministry demand is given two to three hours to be discussed.
12:12 pm: Speaker asks Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to introduce the Appropriation Bill.
This is a Bill that Parliament has to approve to authorise the government for withdrawing paisa from the Consolidated Fund of India (CFI). The CFI is where taxpayer money goes and the government has to take permission from Parliament to withdraw from it.
For obvious reasons. Parliament is full of people we elected, right? So they should have a say in how tax money should be spent, right? At least discuss how it is being spent so that the people know?
Heh. Gormint be like, “LOL NOPE!”
12:14 pm: The Appropriation Bill is passed by the Lok Sabha. Again, without discussion.
The Budget was passed and permission was given to the government to withdraw money. You’d think it’ll end there, since the speaker mentioned that the Demands for Grants will be taken up, but in a strange turn of events she moved on and crammed in even the Finance Bill into the bulldozing process.
12:15 pm: Finance Bill 2018 is taken up for consideration and passing. She rattles off the clauses of the Bill one after the other. The minister had moved 21 last-minute amendments to this Bill, which are also considered amidst this chaos. (For complete amendments, see this.)
The Finance Bill this year contained 218 clauses that concern how the government will collect taxes this year. It proposes changes to taxes and duties that will be collected. This year’s Bill also contained a provision that legalises foreign donations given to political parties under the FCRA act, retrospectively from 1976 (!!!) onwards. 42 years!
No seriously. Watch this:
12:31 pm: Finance Bill 2018 is passed by Lok Sabha, including all the amendments proposed by FM Arun Jaitley. Zero discussions. Zero debate. 100 per cent bulldozing. Usually, the Finance Bill is given three to five hours for Members to discuss every aspect of it. Today it got passed in 16 minutes.
You’d think it would end there, but nope. There’s more.
12:32 pm: Speaker takes up consideration and passing of Supplementary Demands for Grants for last year and the Appropriation Bills that came with it. These are revised demands given by ministries for last year. Basically, MORE MONEY.
12:36 pm: House Adjourns immediately after passing all these demands and Bills, to meet on Thursday at 11 am
So…Parliament doesn’t matter anymore?
This stunning shocking ridiculous and dangerous sequence of events should give each and every one of us extreme anxiety attacks. I sure as hell got one.
Passing the Budget is supposed to be one of the most important functions of Parliament, specifically the Lok Sabha. It deals with the finances of the government of our gigantic country full of 1.3 billion people.
The whole reason why Parliament even exists is so that it can scrutinise and have financial oversight on how our tax money is being spent by the government in power. What happened is the opposite of that. It takes away oversight or even a semblance of discussion regarding the Budget of our country and reduces our Legislature to a mere rubber stamp.
This is the government in power blatantly telling all citizens, “We’re in power, our party has a majority and we can do whatever we want. You will have no say, through your elected representatives, regarding how we use YOUR money.”
Sure, you might think that the Opposition MPs have been disrupting the house for the past seven days, being horrible people in general and therefore the government had to be forceful to get the Budget passed. But do remember it is also the job of the government to have a dialogue with the Opposition, to come to a compromise with them after hearing their demands so that all of them can collectively clear the country’s Budget. Why? Because if not the government, then WHO WILL?
What we saw was a handful of individuals ramrodding their way through the parliamentary process and not bothering to listen to the members who are clearly upset.
On the other hand, the Opposition was shameless enough to let all of this happen. They could see that the Budget was being taken up but they continued to scream and shout, blatantly ignoring the bulldozing. They didn’t even try to contribute their views towards the sequence of events. It’s a collective responsibility to clear the Budget and let the house function after all.
All the MPs, screaming or non-screaming, placard holding or non-placard holding, present or absent, are responsible for the murder of Parliament on live television. We should all hang our heads in shame that this is what it has come to, this is what we have become.
Parliament and the people inside are supposed to be a reflection of our country. Looking at this mirror today, I’d say we sure look goshdarn ugly.
This article was first published in Newslaundry