Functioning of Parliament: Challenges and way forward – Explained, pointwise

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Introduction

Over the years, the functioning of Parliament has declined, which is not a good sign for a healthy democracy. Recently, the Chief Justice of India also flagged the issue of lack of discussion in legislative assemblies on various laws before they are passed. The CJI also remarks that there used to be “wise” and “constructive” debates in the past, but now the lawmaking is in a “sorry state of affairs” now, has led to “gaps” and “ambiguity in making laws”

The recent session of Parliament has ended abruptly, and before its scheduled date. This is not such a first session, instead, this is the fourth consecutive session that has been cut short. The pandemic led to the curtailment of two sessions in 2020. This led to non-discussion of various important issues like Chinese incursion into Ladakh, Farmers issue, Covid-19 response, and strategy, Pegasus controversy, etc.

If this pattern continues, the new Parliament building will be a modern and spacious venue for a dysfunctional institution. So, let us understand the issues involved in the functioning of Parliament.

Monsoon session of Parliament

Some crucial bills passed in this session, without any major debate in the parliament, like,

  1. 127th Amendment bill
  2. The Taxation Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2021
  3. General Insurance Business (Nationalisation) Bill
  4. Deposit Insurance and Credit Guarantee Corporation (DICGC Bill)
  5. Tribunal Reforms Bill
Issues with the functioning of parliament
  • Frequent Adjournment of Parliament sessions: In recent times, Parliament sessions are adjourned frequently. This hampers the work of Parliament. For instance,
    • In December 2010, soon after the 2G scam had broken out, the then winter session recorded just 6 percent work.
    • For the past 10 years, the Rajya Sabha has functioned for less than 25% of its scheduled time.
    • In the 2021 Monsoon session, Lok Sabha was scheduled to work for six hours per day for 19 days. Instead, it sat only for 21 hours in total or 21% of what was conceived, as per the PRS Legislative Research
  • Less scrutiny of Bills/government policies: Most of the bills were passed without any scrutiny, as they were passed in the same session in which they were introduced. For instance, in the recent monsoon session,
    • Except for the 127th Constitution Amendment bill, the rest of the bills were passed on an average of 8 minutes.
    • Also, there was no discussion in LS on any policy issue. In RS, only one discussion was seen related to the management of COVID.
    • During the 15th LS, 18% of bills were passed in the same session. In 16th LS, the count rose to 33%.
  • Less number of Bills sent to committees for scrutiny: Only 12% of the government’s legal proposals have been sent to committees for scrutiny in the current Lok Sabha. This number was 27% in the 16th (2014-19), 71% in the 15th (2009-14), and 60% in the 14th (2004- 09) Lok Sabha.
  • Lack of Parliamentary debate: For instance, in the recent monsoon session, out of 20 bills, 18 bills were passed without any discussion in LS apart from 1 bill on Schedule Tribes (Order) Amendment bill, which saw discussion of 15 minutes
  • Reduced working hours of Parliament: The Parliament working hours are getting reduced day by day. For instance,
    • For the past 10 years, the Rajya Sabha has functioned for less than 25% of its scheduled time.
    • In 2020, Parliament sat in session for 33 days only.
  • Resort to money Bill route: Several key pieces of legislation have been passed as Money Bills, despite the fact that they did not fit this category.

All this denotes that the passage of these laws was more in form than in substance.

Read more: Parliament is abdicating its oversight role
Implications of reduced Parliament’s functions
  1. With reduced debate and parliamentary committee interference, the ability of the Opposition, to hold the government accountable for its functioning, will also get reduced.
  2. Elaborate discussions prevent hasty legislation and help the legislators to understand the core issue behind the bills and help them to rectify them in Parliament itself. Thus, the better functioning Parliament will reduce the burden on the courts and reduce unnecessary litigation.
    • Recently, the Chief Justice of India has raised concerns over the gaps in law-making which led to a lot of litigation and inconvenience to citizens, courts & other stakeholders.
  3. Moreover, the insertion of the Tenth Schedule through the 52nd Constitutional Amendment Act, 1985, has rendered the individual positioning of an MP toothless.
    • It is the party whip’s decision that prevails over the interest of a constituency, represented by its respective MP.
  4. A major chunk of the bills in the Parliament is passed using ‘voice voting’, when compared to the much more reliable ‘division voting’ that can record the response of each member, including abstentions.
Read more: We, the people, miss our houses
Significance of Parliamentary System in India
  1. Represents Diverse Group: The parliamentary form of government provides an opportunity to various ethnically, racially, linguistically and ideologically diverse groups to share their views in the framing of laws and policymaking.
  2. Responsible Government: The parliament can check the activities of the executive, as the latter is responsible to the former. The members of the parliament can ask questions, move resolutions, and discuss matters of public importance to pressurize the government.
  3. Prevents Authoritarianism: In a parliamentary system, the tendency of authoritarianism decreases as the power is vested in the council of ministers rather than a single individual. The parliament can remove the government through a no-confidence motion.
  4. Other benefits include,
    • The debates and discussions assist Parliament in making informed decision-making.
    • These debates provide a forum for MPs to express their opinions and concerns and contribute towards making policy.
    • The debate allows parliamentarians to voice the interest of the people of their constituencies.
Suggestions to improve the functioning of Parliament
  • Parliament can change its rules to give MPs more teeth in questioning the government and empower its committees to become critical stakeholders in the law-making process.
  • The CJI has raised concerns over the lack of intellectuals and lawyers in the house. So, the legal community and lawyers should not confine themselves to their profession. They should take the lead and actively participate in social & public life.
  • The government can amend the rules of procedure of both the Houses of Parliament under Article 118 of the Indian Constitution. It will make it mandatory to refer bills to the parliamentary committees and prescribing appropriate action against unruly members.
    • Article 118 deals with the rules and procedures of the House
  • Review of Anti-Defection law:
    • In order to revive debate and deliberations in Parliament, the use of whip can be restricted to no-confidence motion only.
    • The adjudicating power of the speaker vis-à-vis anti-defection law can be transferred to the Election Commission of India.
  • The government can introduce the Legislative Impact Assessment.
    • Every legislative proposal must incorporate a detailed account of social, economic, environmental, and administrative impact for wider awareness and subsequent legal assessment.
    • A new Legislation Committee should be formed in the Parliament to oversee and coordinate legislative planning.
  • In order to strengthen the role of the opposition, the institution of the shadow cabinet can be formed in India like Britain.

Sources: The Hindu(Article 1, Article 2), Times of India, The Print, Hindustan Times, The Week, Indian Express 

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