Parliament Logjam Will We Learn Our Lesson?
The backseat that parliament has taken over the years is highlighted by recent statistics across the spectrum of parliamentary functioning—some examples being the least number of working days and eight bills passed in 17 minutes in 2008 and 28 MPs being absent during question hour in 2009
Dr Sarvapalli Radhak-rishnan, the first chairman of the Rajya Sabha, had observed that, “parliament is not only a legislative but also a deliberative body.” The founding fathers of our constitution created a democratic system wherein the legislature would make laws, the executive would implement laws and be accountable to parliament and an independent judiciary would enforce and interpret the laws. They also put in systems of checks and balances among these three organs of the state. However, over the years, these three organs of the state have excessively encroached upon the boundaries of their relationship with one another.
There have been several instances over the last decade when the judiciary was seen as pushing the limits of its relationship with both the executive and the legislature. From ordering the use of CNG and cleaning of rivers to directing the convening of a legislative assembly and deciding its agenda for the day, the judiciary tested the extent of its powers in both the executive and legislative arena.
The executive has also not been far behind in testing the equilibrium of its relationship with the judiciary and legislature. The passing of the Delhi sealing laws each year to provide protection to the people from the sealing orders of the apex court is one such example. While the passing of laws is a function of the legislature, in the last three decades only laws introduced by the governing dispention have been passed. Another example of the executive pushing its relationship with the legislature is the continuation of the monsoon session from July to December in 2008.
If we go back in history, when the Bofors scandal rocked the country in the late ‘80s, the Opposition boycotted both the Houses for about 45 days. But the ruling Congress, with a brutal majority in its hands, ensured that the disruptions did not affect the government’s business in Parliament. After some initial reluctance, the Congress government yielded to demands for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the issue. Later, during the Narasimha Rao government, the Opposition put up a united fight for the removal of the then telecom minister, Sukh Ram, who was caught red-handed taking bribes. This time, though, the Congress did not give in to the demand for a JPC and Parliament proceedings were disrupted for a fortnight. But the Bills moved by the government were passed in the midst of the ruckus.
When the Tehelka tapes brought into open the rot within the BJP-led NDA government, Sonia Gandhi, who was then the Leader of the Opposition, demanded a JPC probe. The NDA was adamant about not getting this done and Parliament was subsequently stalled, but the government managed to push its agenda in the House. In 2012, the logjam in Parliament over the 2G scam and other corruption scandals had not only hurt the taxpayer but also stalled the legislative business of the House. Parliament lost 114 working hours in the first 11 days of that year’s winter session. This
has caused a loss of more than Rs 25 crore to the state exchequer. A study by PRS Legislative Research, a policy study group, showed that in the year 2012 while the Lok Sabha lost 81 per cent of its time because of disruptions, the Rajya Sabha used only 2 per cent of its allotted time.
Under the current government Loksabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan suspended 25 Congress MPs for Misbehaviour inside Parliament. The Congress on the other hand is accusing BJP and the speaker of partisan behaviour with them. This deadlock is costing so much to Indian taxpayer. Also, the logjam is putting the future of crucial bills in limbo.
A minute in Parliament costs Rs. 29,000, the whole day of work cost almost Rs. 1.5 crores. Yet almost 90 per cent of time has been wasted in Parliament in two weeks.
With Congress Vice-president Rahul Gandhi already making it clear that they will ‘not allow’ any discussions till the resignations of three leaders- Shiv Raj Singh Chouhan, Sushma Swaraj and Vasundhra Raje- the parliament session is expected to be a reiteration of what happened in UPA’s time in 2012.
In the current government agenda, a crucial 11 bills are pending in parliament among which 9 new bills to be introduced and one to be taken up for consideration and passing.
These 11 bills include crucial Land Acquisition Bill, Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill, SC and ST (prevention of atrocities) Amendment Bill 2014-which require immediate action to be taken. Other important bills like Whistleblowers Protection (amendment) Bill 2015, Mental health care Bill, 2013 Prevention of Corruption (Amendment) Bill 2013, Child Labour Amendment Bill 2012, Real Estate (regulation & development) Bill 2013 are need to be discussed and processed.
Some Facts About The Two Houses Of Indian Parliament In 2015
Due to this daily interruption in the functioning of the houses of Indian Parliament, the economy is suffering a very big loss and some of the facts that disrepute the Indian Parliament not only in the eyes of it people but also at the international level.
- For the last 10 days, there has been no work in the houses of Indian Parliament and the nation has borne an expenditure of Rs. 145 crores on the working of Parliament.
- 25 MPs of Congress have been suspended by the Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan for interrupting in the working of the House. The MPs were found guilty of showing Placards and shouting slogans.
- The expenditure in this monsoon season has been 260 crore in 18 days.
- The government expects to pass 11 pending bills and also to introduce 8 new bills before the two houses of the Parliament in this season.
- The bills also include important bills like the GST bill.
It is in this context that it would be useful to look at the effectiveness of Parliament as an institution of governance. The backseat that parliament has taken over the years is highlighted by recent statistics across the spectrum of parliamentary functioning—some examples being the least number of working days and eight bills passed in 17 minutes in 2008 and 28 MPs being absent during question hour in 2009. If numbers are an indication of the performance of an institution then on the face of it, parliament has fallen short in discharging its constitutional duty of effectively scrutinising laws before passing them and overseeing the work of the government.
Article 85 of the constitution empowers the president to summon parliament. And the president follows the advice of the council of ministers. So, effectively, the government decides when parliament is going to meet to oversee its functioning.
Please! Debate Not Disrupt
Politics must be for the betterment of people but now a day it seems nothing other than gluttony of power. Parliament disruptions become India’s version of tradition to run democracy. For last two decades it is clearly visible in the temple of democracy, may it be for a cogent or a vague reason. Opposition’s guided by the only one motto: we did not do much development in the country; we will not let them to carry out development. But the real sufferers are common Indians.
Even on the day former president Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam passed away, he showed grave concern over the continuing Parliament logjam. Media and Intellectuals discuss everyday about the probable solution of this malady; however, its effect on our Parliamentarians is zero.
25 Congress MPs were suspended from the Parliament as they made it a point to disrupt the house every day in the ongoing Monsoon session. Stalling the house meant no work gets done, no bills are passed, no policies are discussed, no issues of national importance are brought up. This is becoming a habit of the Congress party. Despite being reduced to 44, the Congress it seems is yet to learn its lessons.
Having assured of media by its side, any disruptions by Congress is seen as a failure of Modi government. Here worth it is to mention that this incident is not the first time in our Parliament history as the previous Lok Sabha had seen the then Speaker Meira Kumar suspending 16 members from Telangana in February 2014. Seven MPs of Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal(United), Rashtriya Janata Dal and Lok Janshakti Party were suspended from Rajya Sabha and physically marshalled of the House to facilitate the passing of Sonia Gandhi’s pet Women’s Reservation Bill. In 2005, 11 MPs (mostly from BJP) were expelled from Lok Sabha on cash for query charges.
Parliament is for legislation and for debate and if the Congress thinks it has material to show the government up, the forum for that is the Lok Sabha.
Another question comes here in mind is that: what the Congress doing good politics? Here the answer is: Yes. Blocking Parliament brings attention to a party that has poor speakers like Rahul Gandhi. It is unlikely to shine in debates, assuming we were a nation that enjoyed listening to sparkling intellectual exchange, which we are not.
If anybody had any doubt that the Congress wants to disrupt Parliament rather than debate or legislate anything, the early skirmish in the Rajya Sabha between Arun Jaitley, leader of the house, and Congress politicians, should dispel any such notion.
A reinvigorated Congress has two aims in this Parliament session: keep the media focus on BJP scams (Lalit Modi, Vyapam) and prevent the passing of any important reform legislation in order to derail the government’s agenda. While the first aim is politically legitimate, the second aim is not. Hence, disruption is what the Congress will adopt as strategy. This is why it is making impossible demands like the resignation of Sushma Swaraj, Vasundhara Raje and Shivraj Singh Chouhan – something the NDA cannot accept.
The Congress party has been stubborn in insisting that it would not allow Parliament to function unless the government sacked or at least acted against leaders accused of corruption.
This much is evident from the fact that Congress rejected all of Jaitley’s offers: to let Sushma Swaraj make a statement on why she allowed the British government to give travel documents to Lalit Modi, to start a debate immediately after suspending other businesses, or to postpone the debate till Congress was ready for it, etc.
A debate does not suit Congress at all. Disruption is the chosen option because it senses that the ground is slipping beneath its feet.
The GST Bill was brought in by the Congress-led government itself, their finding faults with it now is only indicative of their dirty politics. The recommendations in the Bill were entirely supported by the Congress-ruled States. By stalling the Bill, Sonia and Rahul are hurting even the Congress-ruled States and the entire economy.
Few regional parties don’t want to make the resignation of Sushma Swaraj a prestige issue. So Congress seems to be isolated on this issue too.
Going by convention and propriety, Parliament cannot discuss matters falling in the state’s domain while nothing bars Parliament from discussing anything. Discussing Raje’s links to Lalit Modi or Chouhan’s to Vyapam means opening a Pandora’s Box on discussing many other state scams. Mamata Banerjee would not want Saradha discussed in Parliament, or SP the scams of Uttar Pradesh. Nor would the Congress itself want to discuss the Goa and Assam bribery scams involving US Company Louis Berger.
The Congress’ insistence that the PM can order the dismissal of state Chief Ministers is constitutionally invalid and politically untenable. Barring family-driven parties like Congress – where the Gandhi family can orders CMs to resign at will – federated parties like BJP cannot easily act against CMs without risking serious internal revolts. The BJP asked BS Yeddyurappa to quit in Karnataka after corruption allegations were levelled against him, but Yeddyurappa split the party and the BJP lost miserably in the 2013 assembly elections.
India is now at a stage where it needs dialogue between the ruling party and its opponents to progress. Political parties should present a credible agenda for engagement in Parliament; it may turn out to be much better for running the Governance and Politics. There is no substitute for a healthy debate in a democracy.
‘No Work No Pay’ what our MPs deserved?
‘Create new standards of acceptable Parliamentary conduct, but by consensus with all parties’ says Union Minister of State for Civil Aviation, Mr. Mahesh Sharma who has proposed a ‘No work, no pay’ rule for the Parliamentarians as a disincentive to protests as a means to stall the functioning of Parliament. In India, a Member of Parliament continues to receive his salary even after being suspended for creating disruptions in the House. It is interesting to note that though Indian Parliament has yet to implement the aforementioned rule, other countries have been successful at it and have ensured smoother running of their legislatures.
This principle of ‘No work, no pay’ is not new in India. There was a case in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly wherein the Privilege Committee of the House suspended some of the MLAs for a period of six months and during that period; they were not eligible to receive salary and other allowances.
It is important to understand here that the principle of ‘no work, no pay’ is not just punitive in nature, but works on the principle of compensation as well. People are compensated for productive contribution. When there is no productive contribution, there is no compensation in return. Applying this rule to the Members of Parliament today would makes sense as it would ensure that only those who productively participate in the proceedings of the house will be awarded salary and vice-versa.
— Sanjay K Bissoyi
Statistics show a sharp decline in the number of sitting days of parliament. Between 1952 and 1972 the Lok Sabha worked for an average of 120 days in a year. In comparison it worked for an average of 70 working days in the last decade. Parliament’s inability to convene itself and a decline in the number of working days of parliament has been a cause for concern for MPs and presiding officers of both houses.
In light of the fact that parliament does not have the power to convene itself, a solution that has been attempted is to fix a minimum number of working days for it in a year. The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution had recommended that a minimum number of working days for Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha should be fixed at 120 and 100 respectively. Vice President Hamid Ansari while inaugurating the Whips Conference in 2008 had suggested an increase in the number of sittings of parliament to 130 days per annum. In 2008, Rajya Sabha MP Mahendra Mohan introduced a private member bill to amend the constitution to specify a minimum of 120 working days. In the winter session of parliament in 2010, the government opposed the concept of a minimum number of working days.
Some state legislative assemblies have addressed this problem by specifying a minimum number of working days in their rules of procedure. The Odisha assembly has a mandatory provision specifying the number of days that it would meet and the Uttar Pradesh assembly has a provision which states that best efforts would be made to work for a specified number of days. Since the constitution empowers parliament to make its own rules for functioning, it can make a rule to the same effect.
Democracy has proved to be an extraordinary means in transforming an ancient civilisation with such astonishing ethnic, religious, linguistic, and cultural diversity, myriad social divisions, and deeply entrenched poverty into a twenty-first-century success story. Only democracy has that capability to obtain such remarkable change with the consent of the people, and enable all to feel that they have the same stake in the country’s progress, equal rights under its laws, and equal opportunities for advancement. And only democracy could defuse conflict by giving dissent a legitimate means of expression. As a matter of fact some political analysts have expressed astonishment that India has flourished as a democracy.
But the “temple of democracy,” as we have long hailed our parliament, is now in desperate need of reform. Parliament’s functioning has become, to most Indians, an embarrassment and, to many, an abomination. People turn on their televisions and watch in disbelief as their elected representatives shout slogans, wave placards, scream abuse, and provoke adjournments—indeed, do almost anything but what they were elected to do.
The result is that most Indians consider Parliament a enormous waste of time and money. After all, its dysfunction not only cheapens political discourse; it also delays essential legislative business. Bills languish, policies fail to acquire the legal framework needed for implementation, and governance slows. The errant MPs are not just betraying their voters’ confidence; they are also betraying their duty to the country and discrediting democracy.
By Nilabh Krishna