A Question For Parliament
Indian Express, December 24, 2015
Can the House deal
with disruption instead of being held hostage to it?
At the end of every
session of Parliament, the chairman of the Rajya Sabha and
speaker of the Lok Sabha make observations about the functioning
and work done during the session. Statistics about working
hours, bills passed, discussions undertaken and time lost are
made available to MPs and the media. However, these numbers are
about the output of the session rather than the outcome of
parliamentary functioning. The institution of Parliament is
about more than time-keeping or going through the motions of
passing a bill. The end of the session is a good time to analyse
the numbers, the story behind the numbers, and its implications.
In the winter
session, both Houses met for 20 days. However the Rajya Sabha
only had 19 days available for functioning. This is because the
proceedings of the first day were adjourned as a mark of respect
to the memory of a sitting member of the Upper House who had
passed away that morning. Adjourning proceedings on the demise
of a sitting MP is a tradition that is followed by both Houses.
The earlier convention of the Rajya Sabha was that the House
would be adjourned to enable fellow MPs to participate in the
funeral if a sitting member had died in Delhi.
During the session,
the Lok Sabha was able to work for 98 per cent of the scheduled
time. The Rajya Sabha lagged behind, utilising only 51 per cent
of the time available to it for conducting business. Even this
was possible only because the House spent the first three days
debating ?commitment to India?s Constitution?. This debate later
rang hollow as the proceedings of the Upper House were disrupted
for the major part of the session.
For the Lok Sabha,
the majority of its productive time was spent discussing
non-legislative business. This included discussions on issues
related to price rise, drought and floods. However, discussions
on these issues are a matter of routine in Parliament. The issue
of price rise has been discussed almost every year for the last
decade ? sometimes multiple times during the year. The same is
the case with the debate on natural calamities. Our
representatives need to hold the government accountable on these
issues rather than just going through the motions of debate.
This session also
saw the passage of eight bills by both Houses. Thirteen were
passed by the Lok Sabha after discussions lasting approximately
28 hours. The Rajya Sabha went on a bill-passing spree in the
last three days of the session, passing six of seven
non-financial bills without any debate.
This session also
saw 71 per cent of the bills being introduced and passed in the
same session ? the highest in the last decade. Five bills were
passed in the session without being referred to a parliamentary
committee for scrutiny. While this makes the legislative output
look better, it dilutes the lawmaking process.
The depth of
scrutiny of bills by the legislature impacts the quality of
laws. Earlier this year, the apex court struck down Section 66A
of the Information Technology Act.
The amendment bill
that inserted this section was passed in 2008 by Parliament
without any debate. The frequency with which newly passed laws
come up for amendment (Companies Act, land acquisition act, etc)
and ordinances are promulgated also points towards a weakening
of the legislative process.
government functioning, which is partly done through question
hour, also took a hit during the session. Question Hour was
completely disrupted in the Rajya Sabha ? working for only 14
per cent of the scheduled time. In the Lok Sabha, the situation
was a lot better, with 87 per cent of the time allotted for
Question Hour being utilised amidst disruptions. What it meant
was that 14 ministries did not have to answer any oral
questions, which included ministries like commerce, defence and
becoming a way of life in our parliamentary system, this session
raises important questions. Political parties need to answer
whether they will continue to prioritise their political
interests over the national interest. Parliament needs to come
up with answers about ways of dealing with disruptions and
ensuring its working is not subverted by political
*Head of outreach
PRS Legislative Research
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