In India, both the Rajya Sabha (upper house) and the Lok Sabha (lower house) are expected to play a crucial role in making sure the country and its people are governed properly with their full participation. The right to vote and to send our representatives into the Parliament to raise our issues is something which we received after several years of struggle for independence. This was the reason why post-independence, members of the Parliament in both the houses used to take their parliamentary sessions very seriously.
But the manner in which both the houses of the Indian parliament have been working, especially in last few years, should be a matter of concern for everyone. This year too, the manner in which the Lok Sabha Finance Bill and 21 amendments were cleared in 30 minutes without any debate was beyond the understanding of even the Opposition MPs. In the days that followed, the Lok Sabha was adjourned amid protests, and notices for a no-confidence motion could not be taken up.
In a new form of protest to show that they had enough members in the Parliament supporting the no-confidence motion, the Opposition displayed blue-coloured placards with the numbers one to 80 with the words ‘no confidence’ written over them. But the effort was fruitless since the lower house was adjourned too. A similar trend was followed in Rajya Sabha when even the retiring MPs found it tough to deliver their farewell speeches amid the chaos and slogans. It was only after multiple requests from the Speaker of the house to maintain decorum that the MPs gave their farewell speeches.
The ruling NDA has been in the majority in lower house post the 2014 elections – and after the recently concluded elections for 59 seats in the Rajya Sabha, the BJP is also the single largest party in the upper house holding 69 seats now. Since they are in the majority in both the houses, one expects them to implement public policies with ease which clearly is not the case. The Indian Parliament is still crippled with age-old issues – and in fact, these are escalating day by day.
One wonders why the ruling party’s MPs are are not interested in dialogue and debates on important issues, even when the government has nearly a majority in both the houses. A recent report by the Association of Democratic Reforms points to the fact that nearly 90% of the Rajya Sabha MPs have average total assets worth around ₹55 crores. And as per another report, nearly 82% of Lok Sabha MPs have assets worth over ₹1 crore.
The current parliamentarians are also not behind when it comes to criminal cases against them. As per a report from the Association for Democratic Reforms and National Election Watch, currently, almost 34% (i.e. more than one-fourth of MPs in the Lok Sabha) have criminal cases against themselves, as per their own affidavits. According to the same report, 22% of Rajya Sabha MPs have criminal cases against them.
At a time when the country is gripped with issues like farmers protesting for their rights, students protesting for cheaper higher education, youth protesting for employment, banks suffering due to a bad loan crisis, communal clashes, and public data leaks, there is hardly any debate inside the Parliament on how to resolve these issues immediately.
The Indian Parliament is yet to properly use the Information Communication Technology for engaging with the common citizens about their important issues. In the UK, their Parliament has a online petition system where citizens can ask for a reply about any important issues based upon the number of votes that issue gets online. The Parliament is bound to respond in writing. Indeed, this process has its issues, and there is an ongoing debat in developed countries about how to improve this process. In India, however, we are still coping up with a years-old legacy of parliamentary operations which are crippled with high absenteeism and adjournment rates along with a remarkably low number of days per session.
It is also no hidden fact that the number of sitting days for both houses of the Indian Parliament has been on the decline since independence. As per a PRS Legislative Research, during the 1950s, the Lok Sabha met for an average 130 days, and this number shrunk to an average of 70 days in 2000s. In the last four years since 2014, the Lok Sabha met for an average of 63.5 days only.
In contrast, the House of Commons (lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom), as per their parliamentary reports, sat for average of 158 days during the 1950s, which reduced to 138 days in 2000s. As the number of sittings reduced, it directly affected the transaction of business. As per the National Commission constituted to review the working of the Parliament, the Lok Sabha should at least have 120 sittings and the Rajya Sabha 100 sittings per year. These recommendations are yet to be implemented in reality though.
The problem of absenteeism among our parliamentarians during a session (which affects the functioning of the Parliament) is well known to everyone. As per the rules, however, every MP is required to sign the attendance register to claim their daily allowances. In many cases, most of the MPs attend the first half to collect their allowances and do not bother to stay on. Consequently, many times, the proceedings of the house are suspended due to lack of quorum, due to the absence of one-tenth of the total strength of house.
The third matter of concern is regarding misuse of the sanctity of Question Hour. Chaos and disruptions taking place during the Question Hour have become a trend now, and this only leads to adjournments. As a result, the time designated for MPs to question the government’s actions is lost due to regular adjournments of the houses.
There are other procedural areas where reforms are needed, like safeguarding the sanctity of adjournment motion. The adjournment motion is meant to bring to the attention of the Lok Sabha (lower house) any matter of urgent importance which can have serious consequences. For instance, on March 27, the RJD MP J.P. Narayan Yadav forwarded the adjournment motion regarding the communal speech of certain leader, which led to communal clashes in Bihar. The point is that such matters too are hardly discussed these days amidst the chaos and adjournments. Also, it is high time that there should be a yearly session calendar to ensure better attendance and functioning.
Looking at the non-serious attitude of the government towards implementing any of these parliamentary reforms, we can assume that the situation will stay as is. But as responsible citizens, the least we can do is to raise the concerns.