The first budget of the new Congress-led UPA government was debated on for 81.20 hours, the maximum time spent debating a budget in over 15 years. According to PRS Legislative Research, the last time a budget debate lasted for over 80 hours was in 1992 when the budget was debated for 89.90 hours.
The most a budget has been debated over the last 25 years (since 1984) has been for 143.57 hours in 1986 when V P Singh was finance minister in the Congress government.
When the last UPA government came to power in 2004, the budget discussion lasted for merely around 32 hours. It touched its lowest in 2001 when the budget discussion spanned for a dismal 16.27 hours.
This year's statistic of over 80 hours clearly indicates a healthy trend in Indian politics. Debate and discourse are the foundations of a vibrant democracy and what better platform than our Parliament to hold discussions on crucial and pertinent issues. Our lawmakers must utilize the opportunity provided on the floor of the House to thrash out important matters and raise relevant questions to the government.
The Union Budget, being the mammoth and critical exercise it is, deserves sufficient attention from MPs across party lines. Adequate and constructive discussion on it is a must. And merely 20 odd hours of debate hardly serve any purpose.
One can always question the quality of debate and argue that meaningless semantics stretched for 80 hours serve no purpose. However, even if we assume the quality of debate was low, even if it was mere rhetoric, it is still a beginning. As I said, a healthy "trend". It is definitely better than allowing the govt to go ahead with bills/budget/policies etc without any form of discussion. In over 80 hours of debate, even if some time was spent in irrelevant name calling and mud slinging (or discussing UFOs!), all 80 hours could not have been unproductive! And if pointless discussions are inherent to our political class, then it might as well be during an 80-hour debate than a 20-hour one!
This budget's debate duration makes a case for some optimism about the future of our Parliamentary discourse and legislative health. After all, ample debate and arguments work as the much-needed checks and balances for a democracy as varied as ours.