This winter session has been the least productive in parliament since 1985, and 2010 is perhaps the least productive year ever in Indian parliamentary history.
“Statistics before 1985 are hard to come by, but it is possible this could be the least productive year ever,” said Tonusree Dutta, who works for PRS Legislative Research, a policy study group based in Delhi.
In two earlier sessions this year, parliament recorded 72 and 87 per cent, low numbers by themselves, but the winter session’s score of six per cent further pulls down the average to a rare trough of 55 per cent.
Productivity is defined as the number of hours spent in parliament on discussion, debate, and questions. A session is considered working from time the speaker calls the house to order and the time she announces its adjournment.
Parliament worked only on November 9, the inaugural day of this year’s winter session, after which the opposition stalled proceedings every day, forcing adjournments.
In 1990, parliament worked almost at double capacity, recording 190 per cent productivity in its last session of the year.
Typically, parliament sits for three sessions a year. Special sessions are convened on occasion. The budget session begins in February-March, takes a break, and reassembles in April-May. The break gives standing committees time to examine budget proposals.
This year, the BJP-led opposition is demanding a joint parliamentary committee inquiry into the 2G spectrum allocation scandal, and the winter session ended on Monday with no work getting done. UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi slammed the opposition for the boycott, but leader of the opposition L K Advani said sometimes a boycott
The first session in 1985 worked 62 hours and 39 minutes of 66 hours available, recording 95 per cent productivity. In three subsequent sessions that year, it recorded 118, 106 and 111 per cent productivity.
In 1994, parliament overworked at nearly one and a half times its capacity, recording 148 per cent productivity.
Dutta quoted a 2008 Lok Sabha report when she told Yahoo! India that parliament spends Rs 29,000 on every minute of its functioning. Loss of an hour’s productivity sets Indian citizens back by Rs 17.4 lakh.
Parliament typically works six hours a day. By that calculation, the loss adds up to Rs 10.44 crore every day. Over 22 days, the loss comes to Rs 229.68 crore.
However, this session, parliamentary affairs minister V Narayanasamy accused the opposition of causing a loss of Rs 78 crore a day. It is not clear what other expenses he was taking into account to arrive at this figure.
In other democracies such as the UK and the USA, parliaments work to a fixed calendar. In India, the schedule varies each year, and the dates remain uncertain until they are announced.
The next session for Indian parliament is due in February-March, and the opposition could continue its boycott unless the UPA government gives in to the demand for a joint parliamentary probe into the spectrum scandal.
The Tehelka scam had prompted a boycott for 17 days in 2001, when the NDA was in power. In 1987, the Bofors scandal caused parliament to be disrupted frequently over 45 days.