Issues In The Functioning Of Parliament

AUG 5

Mains   > Polity   >   Parliament   >   Parliamentary Reforms

WHY IN NEWS:

  • Amid uproar by Opposition parties over Pegasus snooping row, fuel prices, farmers protest, and other issues, the productivity of both the houses of Parliament in the monsoon session of 2021 declined steeply.

BACKGROUND:

  • Parliament should be a space for policies and not for politics. But recently there is a growing concern regarding the declining quality of parliamentary debate, devaluation of parliamentary authority, deterioration in the conduct and quality of members and poor levels of participation

ISSUES IN THE FUNCTIONING OF PARLIAMENT

  • Low productivity:
    • Number of days parliament is in session is decreasing. In 1960’s it was for an average of 120 days in a year and in 2016, it is only 70 days.
    • In comparison, British House of Commons has met for an average of 150 days a year and US House of Representatives for 140 days.
  • Lowering standards of Parliamentary scrutiny:
    • Majority of the bills were passed by the Parliament through a voice vote, without much debating and without referring them to the parliamentary committees.
    • For example, RTI Amendment Act (2019), UAPA Amendment Act (2019) - which have huge implications on civil liberties, were passed without referring them to the Parliamentary committee.
  • Un-codified Parliamentary Privileges:
    • In many cases Parliamentary Privileges are used in such a manner as to nullify themselves and become rights against the people.
  • Falling standards of debate
    • Our legislation has often been criticized for hasty drafting and for its being rushed through Parliament in an ad-hoc and haphazard manner
  • Lack of recognition to private members:
    • Only 14 private member bills have been passed in entire history of Parliament
  • Disruptions in Parliament:
    • Indiscipline and disruptions is replacing discussion as the foundation of our legislative functioning.
    • Not only are disruptions a waste of Parliament's valuable time, these significantly taint the image of this esteemed institution
    • A PRS report says during the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-14), frequent disruptions of Parliamentary proceedings have resulted in the Lok Sabha working for 61% and Rajya Sabha for 66% of its scheduled time.
  • Losing power of individual MPs:
    • Instruments like anti defection law, whip issued by the political parties are acting as hindrances to free rein of individual MPs
  • Ineffective use of Adjournment Motions:
    • The Speaker in many cases act in favour of ruling party , in his ‘absolute discretion’, to refuse to give his consent to moving of an adjournment motion without giving any reasons.
    • The primary object of an adjournment motion is to draw the attention of the House to a recent matter of urgent public importance having serious consequences and with regard to which a motion or a resolution with proper notice will be too late.
  • Lack of research support:
    • Most of the MPs have limited or no research support. So, expert advice is missing. Parliament’s Library and reference, research, documentation and information service (LARRDIS) is understaffed and no funds are allocated for parliamentarians to hire necessary research support.
  • Parliamentary Privileges used to curb press freedom:
    • Parliamentary privileges under Article 105, are sometimes used to curb freedom of the press through Strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP).
    • For example Karnataka Assembly recently passed a resolution to arrest journalists for criticising MLAs
    • A SLAPP is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence press in the name of parliamentary privileges.
  • Low female participation:
    • While the global average for Women in Parliament stands at 22.4%, India is at the 103rd place out of 140 countries with a mere 12% representation
  • Dynasty politics making parliamentary seat a hereditary profession:
    • Membership of Parliament had emerged as a whole-time, highly lucrative, hereditary profession
  • Higher expenditure:
    • Financial costs of parliamentary democracy have been skyrocketing. During the last five decades they have gone up by over 100 times
  • Lack of proper voting record:
    • Individual voting record of MPs remains unknown.
    • With no voting record maintained of each MP, it is difficult to distinguish their individual progressive or conservative nature.

REASONS FOR DISRUPTIONS IN PARLIAMENT

  • Discussion on controversial or sensitive matters:
    • It appears that a number of disruptions in Parliament stem from discussions on either listed topics that are controversial, or unlisted matters that are of public importance.
    • The matters such as the Pegasus Project, Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 are such examples of causing disruptions.
  • Deliberate plan of ruling party to evade responsibility:
    • The maximum number of disruptions has been found to take place in the Question Hour and the Zero Hour.
    • While these disruptions are largely attributable to the behaviour of members of the opposition, they may also be a consequence of executive action.
  • Lack of dedicated time for unlisted discussion:
    • Disruptions also get triggered due to lack of adequate time for raising questions and objections in respect of matters that are not listed for discussion in a particular, or during a particular session.
  • Scarce resort to disciplinary powers:
    • Another systemic reason why disruptions are not effectively prevented relates to the scarce resort to disciplinary powers by the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
    • As a result, most members engaging in disorderly conduct are neither deterred nor restrained from engaging in such conduct.
  • Increasing number of members with criminal background
    • Out of the 539 winners analysed in Lok Sabha 2019, 233 MPs have declared criminal cases against themselves. This is an increase of 44 per cent in the number of MPs with declared criminal cases since 2009.
  • Political parties not adhering to parliamentary norms and disciplining their members:
    • When a contentious issue crops up, the government dithers on debating it, leading to Opposition MPs violating the conduct rules and disrupting the proceedings of Parliament.
  • Dissatisfaction in MPs
    • Because of inadequate time for airing their grievances.

SUGGESTIONS TO IMPROVE THE FUNCTIONING OF PARLIAMENT

  • Prescribing a minimum number of days to meet:
    • National Commission to review the working of the Constitution (NCRWC) recommended that it shall be 120 and 100 days respectively for Lok sabha and rajya Sabha.
  • Strengthen the role of the opposition:
    • In order to strengthen the role of the opposition, the institution of shadow cabinet can be formed in India
    • ‘Shadow Cabinet’ is a unique institution of the British cabinet system.
    • It is formed by the opposition party to balance the ruling cabinet and to prepare its members for future ministerial office. In such a system each action of Cabinet Minister must be countersigned by the minister in the shadow cabinet.
  • Investing in Parliament’s intellectual capital:
    • Additional budgetary support should be provided to LARRDIS while assisting MPs in employing research staff
  • Codification of Parliamentary Privileges
  • Parliamentary committee reforms:
    • Measures for the effective functioning of Department Related Standing Committees like longer tenure (instead of the present one year), promoting specialization etc are needed.
  • Hybrid system of voting:
    • It is a mix of both first-past-the-post and proportional representation voting system.
    • It was recommended by the Law Commission in its 170th report which suggested that 25% or 136 more seats should be added to the Lok Sabha and be filled by proportional representation
    • This will lead to better representation of all sections of society.
  • Curbing criminalization of politics:
    • Government should make efforts to establish more number of fast track courts to try criminal politicians in a time-bound manner within the maximum period of a year.
  • Ensure attendance of members:
    • Political parties must ensure attendance of at least 50% of their legislators throughout the proceedings of the Houses by adopting a roster system
  • Code of Conduct:
    • To curb disorder in Parliament there is a need for strict enforcement of code of conduct for MPs and MLAs.
  • Transparency and accountability:
    • Regular publication of reports by the Secretariats of Legislatures on the attendance of Members and their participation in debates.
  • Legislative Impact Assessment:
    • A detailed framework for pre and post Legislative Impact Assessment was needed
  • Productivity Meter:
    • The overall productivity of the session also can be studied and disseminated to the public on a weekly basis.
    • For this, a “Productivity Meter” could be created which would take into consideration the number of hours that were wasted on disruptions and adjournments, and monitor the productivity of the day-to-day working of both Houses of Parliament.
  • Bring simultaneous elections:
    • Building consensus on the proposal of simultaneous polls to allow unrestricted governance.
  • Building a better image of Parliament:
    • Parliament is the communication link between the people and the government. Bad public relations job has resulted in a poor image of Parliament and of its members. Deliberate and concerted efforts are needed also at the professional level to rebuild Parliament's image as the supreme institution of the people.
  • Enactment of Women’s Reservation Bill:
    • Reserving 33% of all seats in Parliament and State legislatures for women
  • Planning legislation and improving its quality:
    • There is need for a dynamic – not mechanical – approach to legislative engineering and systematic programming of laws which may be proposed for enactment over a period of time
  • Reform in anti-defection law:
    • The law should be applicable only during the passage of no confidence motion. In all other circumstances the individual MPs must be given freedom of expression and voting
    • The adjudicating power of speaker with respect to anti-defection law can be transferred to Election Commission of India
  • Setting up a Constitution Committee:
    • Instead of the Constitution Amendments being presented to Parliament like ordinary pieces of legislation in the form of Bills, the device of a Constitution Committee of Parliament can be constituted

BEST PRACTICE:

  • Congressional Budget Office in U.S:
    • India could create a ‘Parliamentary Budget Office’ (PBO), akin to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office.
    • PBO could act as an independent and impartial institution devoted to conducting a technical and objective analysis of any Bill

PRACTICE QUESTION:

Q. “Not allowing parliament to function is also a form of democracy, like any other form.” Critically analyze?