7 PM | History shows lack of debate is a symptom of majoritarianism | 18th September, 2019

Context: Quantity of passing bills increased but somewhere the quality has been compromised due to lack of debates in Parliament.

Fact-Sheet of 17th Lok Sabha:

  • During the session, the Lok Sabha worked for 281 hours, a large proportion (46 percent) of which was spent on discussing legislation.
  • Out of the 28 bills which were passed by Parliament, only five of them were previously examined by a parliamentary committee.
  • The Lok Sabha set a record by passing 33 bills, which is the highest number passed in a single session since 1952.
  • Out of the 33 bills passed, recorded voting was asked for on seven bills (or 21 percent), which was significantly higher than the share in the previous Lok Sabha.
  • On multiple occasions, the Lok Sabha sat beyond 10:00 pm, against its scheduled close of business of 6:00 pm.
  • The lower house met for 135 percent of its scheduled hours, higher than any other session of Parliament in the last 20 years.

Parliament:

  • A parliament is an elected system of government.
  • The people vote for their representatives to be elected to the parliament. And when elected, the parliament is then made up all those elected representatives who then guide the government.
  • By choosing their representatives, the people form the government and participate in the decision-making process, thereby upholding democracy.
  • The parliament of India is the absolute legislative authority. And it consists of the two main houses-the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha.
  • The Lok Sabha represents the house of the people and the Rajya Sabha represents the council of the states. Both these houses are presided over by the President of India.

Some of the functions of the parliament:

  • Law-Making Functions: The parliament’s main function, as the absolute legislative authority, is to build fair and strong laws relating to all main union matters or matters enumerated in the union list.
  • The members of either house bring proposals for new bills and laws before the parliament. The members of the parliament then deliberate and debate on the proposal. The parliament of India passes the bill or law when both houses agree and the president gives his/her consent.
  • Monitoring the Cabinet: As mentioned earlier, the parliament of India consists of both the representatives of the people and the council of states. And these members form the cabinet, which is the guiding force that powers the government. All these representatives or cabinet members have important ministries such as finance, defence, and home under their control.
  • Constitutional Amendments: The parliament of India has the power to amend the constitution. To pass a constitutional amendment, both houses need to approve the amendment with a majority or total membership. In some cases, the amendments may need the approval of half of the legislative assemblies of the states.
  • Judicial Functions: Another very important duty of the parliament is to monitor the judiciary system. The judiciary body is presided over by the President. And if the need arises, the parliament has exclusive rights to impeach the President and remove the judges of the Supreme Court and the High courts. The parliament also needs to ensure that no member defames or insults the parliament house.
  • Financial Functions: The parliament needs to enact the budget and decide on ways and means to earn revenue for the public sector. Now the main source of revenue is taxes. And the parliament needs to ensure that this revenue, when sanctioned for expenditure, is earmarked and spent on valid and authorized purposes. To this effect, the parliament has two standing committees to ensure that the cabinet uses the money judiciously—Public Accounts Committee and the Estimates Committee.
  • Electoral Functions: All parliament members are responsible for electing the President and Vice-President of India. They are also responsible for electing the speaker, the deputy speaker, and the deputy chairman.

Recent deliberations in Parliament:

  • Inadequate Scrutiny Of Legislation:
    • A majority of bills did not benefit from detailed deliberations and scrutiny of parliamentary committees.
    • Some of these were bills like the Companies Amendment which re-categorises certain offences as civil defaults and was widely criticised for providing criminal punishment for defaults by companies related to their CSR obligations.
    • Another one was the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code Amendment Bill, which specifies minimum payout to operational creditors and limits the time-period for completing insolvency resolution proceedings.
    • Out of the 28 bills which were passed by Parliament, only five of them were previously examined by a parliamentary committee.
    • The rest of the bills were passed by simply debating them for approximately three and a half hours each, on the floor of the House.
  • Stance Put On Record:
    • Bills in Parliament are usually passed by a voice vote, unless recording of votes is constitutionally required.
    • This session witnessed a new and welcome trend where MPs called for recorded voting on contentious bills, like Triple Talaq, J&K Reorganisation and amendments to the RTI Act.
    • This forced political parties to publicly declare their stand on contentious issues.
      Out of the 33 bills passed, recorded voting was asked for on seven bills (or 21 percent), which was significantly higher than the share in the previous Lok Sabha.
  • Quantity Versus Quality
    • On multiple occasions, the Lok Sabha sat beyond 10:00 pm, against its scheduled close of business of 6:00 pm.
    • Question Hour, which in earlier Lok Sabha’s was consistently disrupted, also functioned smoothly, with a record number of questions being answered orally by ministers in both houses.
    • Parliament’s responsibility, however, goes beyond working for long hours and passing a record number of bills. The focus should also be on in-depth scrutiny of important legislative issues brought before it.

Conclusion: The history of parliamentary democracy from across the world shows that when any political party gets a huge majority, there is a temptation to acquire an authoritarian posture and one of the most obvious features of the same is to set aside quality deliberation by pushing legislation in haste under the cover of “mood of the nation”. A majoritarian parliament is different from majority in the parliament. Majority in parliament gains legitimacy through deliberation but in a majoritarian parliament, numbers trump every other moral consideration.

As the dust settles on the first session of Parliament, attention should move to how we can measure the quality of a legislature’s functioning.

Source: https://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/parliament-jammu-kashmir-reorganisation-bill-triple-talaq-6004343/

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