The Exigency for an Active Parliament for Building a Vibrant Democracy
Mohammad Juned Shahil- Student, Kautilya
On May 13, 2022, the Indian Parliament completed 70 years since its first session. The first session of Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha commenced on May 13, 1952. The Lok Sabha is currently in its 17th (2019- 2024) session. The Parliament is the supreme law-making institution in India, where a draft bill is presented as a legislative proposal, when passed by both houses of parliament and assented to by the country’s president, becomes an Act of Parliament and the law of the land.
The statistics recently released by the PRS Legislative Research throw insight into how parliamentary standards have declined over the years, which calls for a severe relook into how our Parliament has been functioning. The Parliament has been in session for fewer days than earlier, from an average of 121 days from 1952-70 to 68 days since 2000, and this trend continues even now. Even in a few parliamentary sessions, participation in the parliamentary debates is low. In July 2019, a debate on malnutrition among women and children lasted 1 hour with only 10 participants. Just before the first wave of Covid-19, the debate around the threat of the outbreak lasted for 40 minutes with only 19 participants, which is indicative of the decline in participation of parliamentarians. The lack of participation by the members in the debates and fewer sessions of Parliament is a grave concern. Moreover, the 17th Lok Sabha’s monsoon session passed nearly 20 bills without any debate, of which 11 bills were passed in 8 minutes without any debate and discussion. The hasty passage of bills without discussion violates Article 107, which says that no Bill shall be deemed to have been passed unless both houses agree. The makers of the constitution could have used the term ‘passed.’ Still, they used the term ‘agreed’ with the intention of not passing the bills, namely by voting but wanted both Houses of Parliament to discuss legislative proposals thoroughly before agreeing to them.
Another unfortunate development that is being observed is regarding the setting up of parliamentary committees, which are supposed to be in operation even when parliament is not in session. Why are parliamentary committees important? Due to the complexity and wide range of issues that Parliament debates upon, it is necessary to have the technical expertise to comprehend the issues being raised. So the bills are sent to committees to ensure proper scrutiny before passing them, which has immensely contributed to the strengthening of the laws. Since 2004, only 45% of bills have been referred to Parliamentary Committees. Only 20% and 10% of the bills in the 16th and 17th Lok Sabha have been sent to Parliamentary Standing Committees. There have been 134 bills introduced in three years by the Lok Sabha., 114 of which have been passed. Only 13% of bills have been sent to parliamentary committees. In the United Kingdom, all bills are sent to committees for examination and scrutiny. The Central and State Legislative Assemblies have diminished in stature with the introduction of the ‘Anti-Defection Law’ in 1985, which was intended to prevent lawmakers from leaving one party for another, it also introduced the party whip system. It has transformed the legislative institutions into halls of whip-driven tyranny, where it prevents lawmakers from exercising their freedom of speech and conscience.
In a nutshell, it is incumbent on the parliament to function for a longer duration of time to accommodate a wide range of debates on matters of public importance and national challenges. The active presence and debate of parliamentarians are essential for constructive debates and discussions in the parliament which is an essential obligation of Parliamentarians towards citizens. There is a necessity for relaxation of some provisions in the ‘Anti-Defection Law’ agreeing that an MP or an MLA can be disqualified for violating the party whip on confidence motions, no-confidence motions, adjournment motions, money bills, or financial problems. The legislative domain needs to be free quorum so that a lawmaker should not be compelled to follow the party whip and be able to vote against a legislative proposal if they disagree with their party’s official stance. In a participatory democracy, a citizen’s responsibility shouldn’t end simply with the act of voting, which is right now the case. There needs to be greater public participation in the lawmaking process from citizens themselves. It is not the government’s sole responsibility to create an enabling environment for debates, discussions, consultations, and parliamentary scrutinies. It is the responsibility of citizens too to take an interest in matters of public importance, but the general perception among citizens is that of an MP or an MLA as a middle man to the executive in getting access to the public goods for one’s constituency. Citizens are interested in using the influence of MPs and MLAs for recommendations for personal benefits. So, to improve the law-making process, citizens need to hold legislatures and the government accountable by increasing people’s participation and making legislatures not only functional but also prosper to lead our ways to good governance.