The recent session of the 15th Lok Sabha lasted from 5th to 21st February. As the apex legislative body, both houses of the Parliament are meant to draft, debate, deliberate, and deliver laws that the country needs. It disheartens me to observe that the Indian public laughs about, and tacitly accepts, hooliganism in such a dignified institution.
While this session saw the passage of historic bills, such as the creation of the 29th State (Telangana), the Food Security Bill, and the Whistleblower Protection Bill; several other Bills that had the potential to significantly impact Indian society were not passed and will lapse. Some of these include the Disability Rights Bill, the Women’s Reservation Bill, and the Citizens Charter. The passage of each of these bills could have improved the situation for some of India’s marginalized communities. Many of these bills were listed for discussion, but the House was marred by frequent disruptions.
Lok Sabha lost 88% of its scheduled time due to disruptions, and Rajya Sabha lost 85% of scheduled time, according to PRS Legislative Research. From 5th to 13th February, both Houses worked for less than three hours over seven sittings. It was not only the opposition that interrupted the proceedings; cabinet level Ministers such as K. S. Rao were involved in these gross disturbances. These disruptions have three far-reaching implications. For one, they cost the taxpayer an estimated 2.5 lakh rupees per minute (2012 estimate by the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs). Secondly, they undermine the credibility of the institution. Thirdly, they prevent the passage of landmark legislations.
These disruptions reflect the juvenile abuse of freedom of expression, as a result of which the legislative priorities of the nation are being held hostage. Why do parliamentarians resort to unacceptable public disruptions? They represent the over-politicization of social issues. I consider them a failure of parliamentary mechanisms to incorporate diverse views on sensitive issues. Nevertheless, such behaviour should not be protected under freedom of expression, but treated as a crime on par with vandalism.
How can the functioning of Parliament be improved? There are several suggestions of legal reforms, but India is mystically resistant to positive social change simply through passage of good policy. For example, despite legal protection from, and the abolition of, social evils such as dowry, child marriage, and rape, these phenomena are rampant and often occur without fear of repercussions. India has laws in place, but it desperately needs to evolve good customs of governance.
Gross disruptions in Parliament to me, are representative of anarchy. A popular criticism of the Aam Aadmi Party is that their activist approach to politics is anarchic. Both national parties made a major deal about the importance of constitutional procedures regarding the introduction of Delhi’s Jan Lokpal Bill. I contend that Parliament’s behaviour this month shows that the existing political culture is itself anarchic and does not effectively address people’s concerns. The 15th Lok Sabha’s performance was worse than the previous ones. I hope that the next Lok Sabha will change this trend.