A Winter Of Adjournments?

There’s a lot more to this Parliament’s winter session than what catches the media’s eye.

WrittenBy:Anand Vardhan
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The plot seems to be thickening along predictable lines, and it suits the media which is reporting on Parliament. The proceedings in the ongoing winter session of Parliament (November 22 – December 20, 2012) have the familiar trappings of being overshadowed by one issue – the debate and vote on the issue of FDI in retail. Without discounting the significance of the issue, the leitmotif fits into mainstream media’s scheme of things (assuming that mainstream imagination doesn’t include Lok Sabha TV and Rajya Sabha TV) when it comes to reporting on Parliament – an exclusive engagement with a “theme” for the session. In the process, the media tends to relegate everything else on the agenda of the highest legislative body of the country to footnotes.

Instead of informing you and tracking for you the wide-ranging legislative agenda and parliamentary deliberations which each session seeks to address, news channels and even newspapers somehow make you gullible enough to buy the Opposition ploy which of late seems to be working on the undemocratic tenet – one session, one issue. And if the script has the potential of a cliffhanger vote, the media relishes the opportunity of making yet another session a solo performance. So watch how the session would resonate in newsrooms around a voting story, the outlines of which could be what this PTI report suggests:

Ahead of the debate and vote in Parliament, outside supporters of the UPA – the BSP and the SP – on Monday (03.12.2012) kept the government guessing on their support on the issue of FDI in retail.

For all the serious policy implications that the FDI in retail could have, this session (like most of the other sessions) is also important for the long list of legislative tasks which deserve attention from democratic citizenship. Prior to the session (as preview task) and current reporting (running commentary/ analysis), an exercise of sampling five major English dailies (The Hindu, The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Indian Express and The Telegraph), five major Hindi dailies (Dainik Bhashkar, Dainik Jagran, Hindustan, Jansatta and Amar Ujala), major English channels in prime time slot (NDTV 24X7, CNN IBN, Times Now and Headlines Today) and major Hindi channels (Aaj Tak, NDTV India, Zee News and ABP News) did not give an idea of how diverse and important the legislative challenges of the ongoing session are. You may have to look beyond the fourth “pillar of democracy” to educate yourself about what the legislative pillar intends to do this winter.

A study conducted by the PRS Legislative Research gives you a tabular idea of the agenda for the ongoing winter session: (a) 25 Bills pending for consideration and passing (b) the government plans to introduce 10 new Bills.

Bills listed for Consideration and Passing

Short TitleIntroduced onStatus
The Educational Tribunals Bill, 20103 May 2010, Lok Sabha Passed by LS on 26 Aug 2010; Pending in RS
The National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Bill, 20103 May 2010, Lok Sabha Standing Committee Report on 12 Aug 2011
The Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Technical Educational Institutions, Medical Educational Institutions and University Bill, 20103 May 2010, Lok Sabha Standing Committee Report on 30 May 2011
The Architect (Amendment) Bill, 201031 Aug 2010, Rajya Sabha Standing Committee Report on 24 Jan 2011
The Banking Laws (Amendment) Bill, 201131 Aug 2010, Rajya Sabha Standing Committee Report on 13 Dec 2011
The Pension Fund Regulatory and Development Authority Bill, 201124 Mar 2011, Lok Sabha Standing Committee Report on 30 Aug 2011 
The Insurance Laws (Amendment) Bill, 200822 Dec 2008, Rajya Sabha Standing Committee Report on 13 Dec 2011
The Forward Contracts (Regulation) Amendment Bill, 20106 Dec 2010, Lok Sabha Standing Committee Report on 22 Dec 2011
The Companies Bill, 201114 Dec 2011, Lok SabhaStanding Committee Report on 26 Jun 2012
The Enforcement of Security Interest and Recovery of Debts Laws (Amendment) Bill, 201112 Dec 2011, Lok SabhaNot referred to Standing Committee
The Prevention of Money-Laundering (Amendment) Bill, 201127 Dec 2011, Lok SabhaStanding Committee Report on 9 May 2012
The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 201122 Dec 2011, Lok SabhaPassed by LS on 27 Dec 2011; RS Select Committee granted time upto last day of first week of Winter Session 2012
The Whistle Blowers Protection Bill, 201126 Aug 2010, Lok SabhaPassed by LS on 27 Dec 2011; Pending in RS
The Prevention of Bribery of Foreign Public Officials and Officials of Public International Organisations Bill, 201125 Mar 2011, Lok SabhaStanding Committee Report on 29 Mar 2012
The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill, 201129 Dec 2011, Lok SabhaStanding Committee Report on 28 Mar 2012
The Protection of Women from Sexual Harassment at Workplace Bill, 20107 Dec 2010, Lok SabhaPassed by LS on 3 Sep; Pending in RS
The Constitution (108th Amendment) Bill, 2008 (Women’s Reservation Bill)6 May 2008, Rajya SabhaPassed by RS on 9 Mar 2010; Pending in LS
The Constitution (110th Amendment) Bill, 2009 (Reserves for women 50% of seats in panchayats)26 Nov 2009, Lok SabhaStanding Committee Report on 28 Jul 2010
The Constitution (117th Amendment) Bill, 2012 (Reservation in promotion to SCs and STs with retrospective effect)5 Sep 2012, Rajya SabhaNot referred to Standing Committee
The Constitution (Scheduled Castes) Order (Amendment) Bill, 2012 (Modifies SC lists of. Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Tripura and Sikkim)21 May 2012, Lok SabhaStanding Committee Report on 24 Aug 2012
 The Motor Vehicles (Amendment) Bill, 200715 May 2007, Rajya SabhaPassed by RS on 8 May 2012; Pending in LS
The Warehousing Corporations (Amendment) Bill, 20118 Dec 2011, Lok SabhaStanding Committee Report on 30 Aug 2012
The National Highways Authority of India (Amendment) Bill, 201119 Dec 2011, Lok SabhaStanding Committee Report on 15 Mar 2012
The Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 20118 Dec 2011, Rajya SabhaStanding Committee Report on 28 Mar 2012
The North-Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Amendment Bill, 20117 Dec 2011, Lok SabhaPassed by LS on 3 Sep 2012; Pending in RS

Bills listed for Introduction

The Agricultural Bio-Security Bill, 2012

The Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India Bill, 2012

The Central Universities (Amendment) Bill, 2012

The Coal Mines (Conservation and Development) Amendment Bill, 2012

The Competition (Amendment) Bill, 2012

The Criminal Law (Amendment) Bill, 2012

The Governor’s (Emoluments, Allowances and Privileges) Amendment Bill, 2012

The Indecent Representation of Women (Prohibition) Amendment Bill, 2012

The Merchant Shipping (Amendment) Bill, 2012

The Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2012

(Source: PRS Legislative Research)

For a generation which grew up reading the “parliament corner”-captioned news in dailies, and watching JV Raman or Sunit Tandon reading sansad samachar or parliament newson Doordarshan (quite different from what is on offer on full-fledged channels for both houses), it appears that greater access to information and live coverage of sittings have not necessarily deepened the legislative consciousness of news consumers.

Those were the times when late evening “parliamentary encounters” via the public broadcaster were the bitter pill we needed to swallow while waiting for the monopoly to patronisingly offer “citizen’s entertainment”. But, to give the devil its due, even in those agonising moments, it somehow summed up all legislations and debates (with equivalence, not preponderance).

Now it’s the divisiveness quotient of a Bill which decides the scale of its coverage or non-coverage. A case in point is that perhaps the only Bill (except the FDI debate) which seems to have attracted considerable media attention in recent days has been the Reservation in Promotion Bill. Is the reason far to seek? It scores high on the divisiveness quotient – a media recipe for Parliament newsiness.

Tracking the bills, primers on the substance and legislative implications of the bill, its various dimensions in terms of public policy discourse and a general legislative education for readers and viewers do not figure regularly in the media imagination of Sansad Marg.

For instance, this September (2012), the Central government was “trying to push through the Prohibition of Employment as Manual Scavengers and their Rehabilitation Bill”. With the exception of The Hindu, the Bill did not find mention in media discourse. And even The Hindu has not substantively followed up with its tracking.

Legislative consciousness is an important aspect of democratic citizenship and more so in a parliamentary system. It’s an entitlement which the media owes to its readers and viewers. However, the myopic and divisiveness-defined engagement that the media has with parliamentary affairs needs profound reappraisal. A lot more goes on inside the House than you know, most of which does not interest your newspaper and channel.

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