Context- The role of Parliament as a platform for ensuring accountability of the executive and use of its instruments for ensuring criticism, deliberation and even consensus-making has declined in the past few years.
What are the current issues reducing the relevance of Parliament?
- Role of parliamentary committees – To strengthen the lawmaking process, it is important that all Bills are examined by Standing Committees before passage. This ensures thorough scrutiny of the law. The government has shown extreme reluctance to refer Bills to Select Committees of the Houses or Joint Parliamentary Committees.
- The number of bills referred to parliamentary committees has declined drastically, from 71 percent in 15th Lok Sabha to 25 percent in the 16th Lok Sabha, including zero bill referred in 2020.
- The last Bill referred to a Joint Parliamentary Committee was The Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Second Amendment) Bill, in 2015.
- Some of the most momentous Acts of Parliament in recent years such as the radical overhaul of Article 370 were not processed by any House committee.
2. Centre’s willfulness– The government used its majority in both the Houses of Parliament and steamrolled the Bills (with hardly any discussion), amid the predictable din and noise that a fragmented Opposition could mount.
- Ordinance route– Despite having majority in the Lok Sabha, average number of ordinances jumped from six a year under Manmohan Singh to 11 a year under Modi.
- Cancel Question Hour – The Opposition isn’t given a chance to hold the government accountable. Slash Zero Hour time by half, from 60 minutes to 30 minutes, to deprive the Opposition of raising issues of importance. Misuse a constitutional tool such as an ordinance to mock Parliament, in a way it hasn’t been done in 70 years.
- Money bill scam– several key pieces of legislation that did not properly fit in the category, were passed as Money Bills. The Aadhar Bill is a case in point. The Speaker of the Lok Sabha certified that it was a Money Bill and all the amendments proposed by the Rajya Sabha were rejected.
3. Mode of Public address by the PM – Prime Minister Modi who prefers to communicate directly with the people, either on the radio or via social media, which obviate the risk of contradiction, and questioning by the receiver, due to one-way communication.
- PM Modi on an average has spoken 3.6 times a year in Parliament i.e. 22 times in times in six years. In contrast, Atal Ji spoke 77 times in six-year and Manmohan Singh spoke 48 times in parliament during his 10 years in office.
4. Speaker’s traditional non-partisan role- Very few Speakers, with exceptions such as G.V. Mavalankar, P.A. Sangma and Somnath Chatterjee, have gone against their party leaders to uphold the autonomy of the House.
- The need of the hour is for greater and effective utilization of Parliamentary Committees to strengthen Parliament as a deliberative body which can ensure effective oversight. The government must make amends and restore the democratic majesty of Parliament.
- The recent survey showed that more than half of the respondents want to get rid of election and parliaments and have an expert make a decision on behalf of them.