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While We Vote For New Representatives Into the Parliament, Let’s Also Discuss Its Efficiency

By Rishikesh Pande:

By 11 am on May 16, 2014, India and the world will know which party has won the biggest battle of the 21st century – Indian National Congress (INC), Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) or others. While everyone’s eyes are on the results of General Election in India, I am, however, concerned about what comes after May 16, 2014. I am more worried about how my elected candidates or to-be members of parliament (MP) are going to perform in parliament.

parliament of india

By now you have read or heard the news on TOI and other major media houses based on a research report by PRS Legislative, which show a grim picture of 15h Lok Sabha. 15th Lok Sabha performed poorly on many parameters: few sittings, least number of Bills passed (179 of the 328 bills passed; 68 bills lapsed) and a significant proportion passed without deliberation, 60% of time wasted on disruption during question hour etc. Whether performance of the 16th Lok Sabha will be any better than that of 15th Lok Sabha is a question on my mind.

Recently, an Aam Aadmi, Mr. Arvind Kejriwal, gave resignation from the Chief Minister’s (CM) post in Delhi. Many criticized that Mr. Kejriwal was afraid of not living up to the expectations of public. Many said that the resigning was the right thing to do under the given circumstances. While I restrict myself from speculating, in my opinion, it was the chaos over the introduction of the Jan Lokpal Bill in parliament which led to the resignation of a frustrated Mr. Kejriwal.

After resignation, Mr. Kejriwal was often seen voicing discontent against corruption & blaming Indian National Congress (INC) and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for various reasons including failure of passage of Jan Lokpal Bill. But what he truly failed to mention in his speeches was “why” he & his team failed to pass the concerned bill. Mr. Kejriwal failed to see “faults” in our parliamentary system of democracy.

There are many merits & demerits of the parliamentary system of democracy. We will discuss the merits in length later in this article. There are some demerits of parliamentary system of democracy which are as follows:

  • Unstable Government
  • No continuity of policies
  • Against separation of powers
  • Government by amateurs

Now that we have discussed problems with a parliamentary system of democracy, we should talk about possible solutions or alternatives to the same.

Presidential System: An Alternative?

Our constitution is a masterpiece and was drafted after considering constitutions of nearly 60 countries. The concept of “Parliamentary government” was borrowed from the British constitution. United States, a democracy since 1776, runs on an alternative to parliamentary system of democracy – Presidential rule. There are many merits & demerits of presidential rule too. It is not that India, after independence, has not considered a presidential rule. A plea was made in favor of US presidential system of government in the constitution assembly. But, the founding fathers preferred parliamentary system for the following reasons:

  • Familiarity with the system
  • Preference to more responsibility
  • Need to avoid Legislative-Executive conflicts
  • Nature of Indian society

India is one of the most heterogeneous states and most complex plural societies in the world. Constituent assembly members, with members of Indian National Congress in the majority, were familiar with the system since 1885. Hence, the constitution makers choose a parliamentary system which we follow till date.

Whether the parliamentary system should be continued or should be replaced by presidential system has been a point of discussion since the 1970s. The matter was considered by Swaran Singh Committee in 1975 and it was established that the parliamentary system has done well and there is no need to replace it by presidential rule. But after looking at the dismal performance of 15th Lok Sabha, experts might reignite the debate. But, an extreme step like replacement of parliamentary democracy with presidential rule might be disastrous for India because of the complex nature of society as discussed earlier. Also, every coin has two sides. Presidential rule is not free of demerits either. It has it’s own demerits such as:

  • A non-responsible government
  • May lead to autocracy
  • Narrow representation
  • Conflict between Legislative-Executive

So, the best possible way forward to deal with the problem at hand is amendments in a parliamentary system of government and not replacement of the same by presidential rule.

Parliamentary System: Amendments

Recently, M.R. Madhavan, President of PRS Legislative Research, wrote a four-part article series on LiveMint and proposed possible amendments to make the parliamentary system better. According to M. R. Madhavan, there are few methods by which we can insure a better performing and accountable parliamentary system in India. These are as follows –

The Anti-defection law:

The anti-defection law was made by inserting the Tenth Schedule to the Constitution in 1985 to combat “the evil of political defections”. The provisions require every MP and of state legislative assemblies or councils (MLA or MLC) to abide by the party’s command on voting or abstaining on every vote. If a legislator fails to do so, he may be disqualified from his membership of the legislature.

The problem with the anti-defection law is each member is forced to blindly obey the instructions of the party leadership which goes against the basis of a representative democracy. M. R. Madhavan argues that we need to repeal the anti-defection law to ensure the basis of representative democracy is maintained.

The lack of recorded voting:

Another major problem with current system, as M. R. Madhavan argues, is that we do not have records of how MPs voted on most issues. Most motions are decided by a voice vote, with the Speaker determining whether the majority supported or rejected the motion. Of the 175 Bills passed in the 15th Lok Sabha (not counting Constitutional Amendment Bills), only 11 had a recorded vote. This means that citizens do not know whether their MPs were even present in the House during the vote and hence can’t hold their MPs accountable for non-passage of any bill.

To fix this problem, our parliament should use a voting machine fixed on every seat. Use of technology in parliament will certainly help removal of duplication of votes and lack of records & ensure accountability.

Making laws:

A key task of legislatures is to legislate. As M. R. Madhavan argues, we need several reforms to improve the quality of the legislative process. First, enable private members to make law. And second, strengthen the processes before, during and after the Bill is in Parliament.

Holding the government to account for its actions and policies:

Parliament has a key role in ensuring that the central government frames appropriate policies and delivers on its promises. As M. R. Madhavan argues, improving processes related to the question hour, debates on issues and parliamentary committees would go a long way in ensuring better governance.

Mandatory fixed number of working days:

Parliament’s inability to convene itself and no fixed number of working days is a major cause of concern. Article 85 of the constitution empowers the president to summon parliament. And the president follows the advice of the council of ministers. So, the government decides when parliament is going to meet to oversee its functioning.

Statistics show a sharp decline in the number of sitting days of parliament. Between 1952 and 1972, the Lok Sabha worked for an average of 120 days in a year. In comparison, it worked for an average of 70 working days in the last decade.

To fix this issue, The National Commission set up to review the working of the constitution, had recommended that a minimum number of working days for Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha should be fixed at 120 and 100 respectively. But this recommendation has not been implemented as of now.

Conclusion:

Whichever party wins this year’s General Elections and forms government in Delhi, they have to ensure that public’s faith is restored in a parliamentary system of democracy. 16th Lok Sabha has to implement proposed amendments to the parliamentary system and work towards good governance and accountability of MPs. It is the responsibility of all elected MPs to ensure that the dismal performance of 15th Lok Sabha is not repeated.

The writer wweets at @aloke0007

References:

Empowering parliamentarians (Link – http://bit.ly/1g5WGcb)
Improving Law making in India (Link – http://bit.ly/1g5WJ7I)
Accountability through parliament (Link – http://bit.ly/R1ZBNM)
Parliament in public finance Link – (http://bit.ly/Q2xSLB)
Performance of Parliament during the 15th Lok Sabha (Link -http://www.prsindia.org/parliamenttrack/vital-stats/performance-of-parliament-during-the-15th-lok-sabha-3146/)
Parliament needs to find its voice (LInk – http://www.prsindia.org/media/articles-by-prs-team/parliament-needs-to-find-its-voice-1535/)
Indian Polity for Civil Services Examination, 4th edition by M. Laxmikanth

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