Opinion: Opinion: In Parliament, NDA May Well Be 'No Data Available'

Parliamentary questions rarely make the headlines. However, questions raised and answered in parliament are a treasure trove of information.

Opinion: Opinion: In Parliament, NDA May Well Be 'No Data Available'

Parliamentary questions rarely make the headlines. However, questions raised and answered in parliament are a treasure trove of information. In the last decade, Question Hour has been a good opportunity for members in the opposition to expose the shallowness of this government and its disdain for solid data. From the hundreds of questions asked by Members of Parliament to this government during the 'strangulated' winter session of parliament, this columnist has chosen just seven questions to make the point that the NDA (National Democratic Alliance) could very well stand for No Data Available (NDA)!  

1. Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (Manual Scavenging)

Lok Sabha's Aparupa Poddar's (Trinamool Congress) and Rajya Sabha's Md. Nadimul Haque (Trinamool) asked questions regarding data on manhole cleaning robots and deaths due to cleaning septic tanks. Conveniently, the government claimed the absence of centralised maintenance for this information. This is despite the Finance Minister's explicit mention of putting an end to manual scavenging in the Union Budget 2023. If only words could provide relief to communities in India that have experienced the highest indignities of caste for over a millennium. 

2. Ministry of Corporate Affairs (Chinese Companies in India)

The response to Shyam Yadav Singh's (BSP) question on Chinese companies operating in India in the space of providing loans through apps was bewildering. The answer revealed that 53 Chinese companies have established a place of business in India. But the government has 'no data available' on the details of their business activities. 

3. Ministry of Education (Displacement of Tribal Students in Manipur)

In response to Lorho S Pfoze's (NPF) inquiry in Lok Sabha, on tribal students displaced in the Manipur ethnic violence, the Ministry of Education sidestepped the crucial issue of rehabilitation. Even after seven months of Manipur unrest, there is an absence of any concrete government effort to collect data on the students affected by the ethnic conflict, clearly demonstrating a disregard for their welfare. The Prime Minister in 2016 was lauded for his statement, "It is my conviction to bring the North-East at par with other developed regions of the country." These words seem hollow when the students, perhaps the most affected by the ethnic strife, are the least of the government's priorities. The ministry responded with a plan for online education for students missing out on crucial years of their development. Internet shutdowns, gentlemen.

4. Ministry of Finance (Loan Recovery)

S Venkatesan (CPI-M)) asked a pointed question on the quantum of loans written off and the corresponding debt recovery from bad loans spanning the financial years 2014-15 to 2022-23. In response, the ministry said that public sector banks have written off a colossal amount of Rs 10.4 lakh crore in loans while only managing to recover a mere Rs 1.6 lakh crore from these written-off loans. This substantial loss of public funds demands scrutiny and fuels concerns about serious setbacks to the exchequer. 

5. Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions (Pending RTI Appeals)

AD Singh (RJD) asked a question in Rajya Sabha on appeals under the Right to Information Act pending with the Central Information Commission and State Information Commission. The ministry robotically replied that the pendency has drastically reduced and the disposal rate increased. Ironically, no information was provided to substantiate these claims. No such attempt was even made to provide an answer about the states, and a dry "this information is with the state governments" was received in response.

6. Ministry of Railways (Kavach System in Indian Railways)

Despite 2023 having been a torrid year for the Indian Railways, with devastating accidents like the ones in Balasore, Buxar and Vishakhapatnam, questions about the Kavach safety system in trains were met with an unsatisfactory response. The pertinent question was asked by Dhiraj Prasad Sahu (Congress), KRN Rajeshkumar (DMK),  Digvijaya Singh (Congress) and Dr. Amee Yajnik (Congress) in Rajya Sabha.  The answer revealed that the system has only been deployed in the South Central Railway zone. The government didn't think it necessary to provide any insight, plan, or justification as to why the other zones are left without adequate safety mechanisms. 

7. Ministry of Consumer Affairs, Food and Public Distribution (Cancellation of Ration Cards)

Lok Sabha MP Deepak Adhikari (Trinamool Congress) asked a question about the deletion and cancellation of fake ration cards over the past two years. The data provided revealed that Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh together accounted for a whopping 27 lakh cards, whereas West Bengal only had 6 lakh cards cancelled. One is forced to think- why were so many fake cards required in the first place?

Postscript: For over 60 years, Question Hour was taken up at 11 am, followed by Zero Hour at 12 noon in Rajya Sabha. Question Hour would often be disrupted due to MPs wanting to raise crucial issues at the start of the day. In 2014, former Chairman Hamid Ansari flipped the timings and now Zero Hour starts at 11 am, followed by Question Hour at 12 noon. A noteworthy reform by a presiding officer. (Reform and presiding officers. Let's not say a word more!) 

(Derek O'Brien, MP, leads the Trinamool Congress in the Rajya Sabha.)

Disclaimer: These are the personal opinions of the author.